Austin Peay State University’s African American Employee Council recently hosted a virtual town hall on racism and social injustice that was attended by over 465 faculty members, students, and alumni.
The event enabled APSU community members to come together during this difficult time and share their own personal experiences. “This event was so powerful because it gave people a voice and an opportunity to be seen and heard,” said Sheraine Gilliam-Holmes, APSU’s Executive Director and Chief Human Resources Officer.
There were several personal stories shared during the town hall, including one from a current African American student who serves in the military. The student detailed about how she gets treated differently when she is in uniform and when she is not. She also shared some of the hard conversations she has had with her children, who are biracial, and some of their heartbreaking questions. One question that resonated with Gilliam-Holmes concerned the children’s relationship with their father. “One question her children asked her was, ‘So, do we hate daddy now?’ That was a difficult moment for all of us,” said Gilliam-Holmes.
Additionally, an APSU faculty member shared his own guilty feelings for not previously speaking up about events and microaggressions he has personally witnessed and experienced.
Despite the pandemic, the APSU community was able to rally together and use their collective voices. “This virtual town hall provided our attendees with a moment to look through a different lens and just experience a moment of vulnerability,” said Gilliam-Holmes. “I received so many positive and encouraging comments after the event. The bandage has been ripped off, and this is the moment where we are going to patch that wound up and heal together.”
The African American Employee Council held a follow up event the next week that focused on how to be a partner and an ally to combat racial injustice. APSU also plans to host additional virtual programs and to use Zoom to deliver its message to its community about the systemic issues we face across the country and the diversity issues it needs to address on campus.
Conversations like these are happening across the globe and are shedding a much-needed light on the massive injustices and inequalities that still exist in modern society. It is through ongoing dialogue, education, and human compassion that we can affect change.
At a time when people are feeling disconnected from each other, this event gave the APSU community the opportunity to join together, to listen and be heard, and—above all—to show their love and support for their colleagues and peers.