VVC students share experiences during first ‘Equity Forum’

By Staff Reports

(Victorville)– Victor Valley College students and alumni shared their personal experiences with discrimination during the first Student Equity Forum on Thursday, aimed at providing “a space for healing, dialogue, and community.”

The live webinar was put on by VVC’s Office of Student Equity and is the “first of many to come,” according to Dr. Lorena Newson, Dean of Pathways & Professional Learning. The full video is available to watch online here.

“Now is the time more than ever to unify and show our students that they have a place of solitude and support,” Newson said. “This is a unique space to learn from our students how we can better support and understand their diverse needs.”

Before the forum, the panel recognized a moment of silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time in which a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against George Floyd’s neck on Memorial Day, killing the unarmed Black man and sparking protests against racism and police brutality worldwide.

Newson also showed two videos during the webinar: A lecture from anti-racism activist Jane Elliott and rapper J. Cole’s “Be Free” music video.

Facilitating the discussion was Dr. Corey Timberlake, a counselor, instructor and coordinator of UMOJA, a program dedicated to enhancing the cultural and educational experience of African American and other students at VVC.

Timberlake directed questions to the five-student panel consisting of Tessa Harrington, Janae Johnson, Ejon Mannil, George Thenarse and Tristan Wilkerson.

When asked how the killing or George Floyd and other African Americans has personally affected him, Wilkerson, a 2019 VVC graduate who served as the 2018-2019 ASB President/Student Trustee, said “it’s so tough to describe in words.”

“It’s more of a feeling of constant rage … It’s hard to focus on a normal life, like going to school and going to work … when you’re constantly feeling threatened,” Wilkerson said. “And it doesn’t matter how smart you are, because you can do everything right and you still could become the next hashtag.”

Johnson was asked to share her thoughts on saying “all lives matter” in response to “Black lives matter,” to which she said that the first distracts from the BLM movement.

“We’re not saying all lives do not matter, but right now our community — the Black community — is asking for help. We just want equality, change, and the opportunity to catch up, since our community has always been under the foot of systematic racism,” Johnson said. “Not all lives are threatened just by waking up and being themselves.”

Mannil, who graduated VVC in 2017 and now attends UC San Diego, was asked to share any experiences he has had facing systematic racism in education.

“I will commend VVC because they did have resources for students of color … the resources I needed to get to the next level. This is because you have people advocating for these things,” Mannil said.

He explained that with less than 2% of the UCSD student population being Black, he has had difficulty getting the attention of his instructors and has felt pressure to “act more white in order to get into a better position.”

“I want to be a doctor … I know this is only the beginning … These are challenges I’m going to be facing all throughout my life,” Mannil said.

Compelled to share her own experience, Newson followed up Mannil with a story from her early college days. She said despite having graduated at the top of her class in high school, she felt unprepared compared to her non-Black peers in college, and became incredibly discouraged when a white professor pulled her aside to say her declared biology major was “not for you.”

“He never said ‘let me see your notes’ or ‘how many hours are you studying…,’” Newson said. “I had to be the cream that rose to the top at that moment. Not everyone is going to take an interest in you … What you believe in yourself is the only thing that matters.”

Newson kept her biology major and graduated with honors before going on to receive her masters and doctorate degrees in public health and education, respectively.

Superintendent/President Dr. Dan Walden also spoke briefly during the forum, sharing the resolution recently adopted by the VVC Board of Trustees, “Support and Solidarity Against Civil Rights Violations.”

“It is my hope as Superintendent/President that this is the first of many forums that we will have in which we can hear stories, hear people’s testimonies, and listen to their experiences. A lot of us really need to be listening,” Walden said. “We can make resolutions, we can make statements, but really until there are actions to follow the words, nothing really changes.”

Near concluding the event, Timberlake made a point to share the difference between equality and equity. He explained that while equality means providing everyone with the same resources to complete a task, equity offers varying levels of support and resources depending upon need.

VVC’s Office of Student Equity plans to hold additional forums, information for which will be posted online and shared via the student email system. To watch the full webinar from June 11, visit this link: https://vvc365-my.sharepoint.com/:v:/g/personal/lorena_newson_vvc_edu/EWX-ajeok3tDmoXrncx2n10Bpj8icJcIFglpThHONqTSFg?e=U0Q9o2

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