South Carolina

Clemson students protest for racial inclusion on campus

Clemson University freshman Ava Dukes, center, speaks with her peers during a sit-in at Sikes Hall on Thursday.
Clemson University freshman Ava Dukes, center, speaks with her peers during a sit-in at Sikes Hall on Thursday. Anderson Independent Mail

History will remember them as the “Clemson Five.”

Five students, who were at the forefront of a peaceful protest about improving racial inclusion at Clemson University, were arrested Thursday and charged with trespassing after they refused to leave Sikes Hall.

Those arrested were D.J. Smith, Me’Khayla Williams, Rae-Nessha White, J. Ian Anderson, and Adrian “A.D.” Carson. Four of them are between the ages of 20 and 22. Carson is 36.

Those five students and dozens of others had participated in an all-night sit-in at Sikes Hall, which houses the offices of key university officials, including President Jim Clements.

Led by Smith, the students said Thursday that they would not leave the building until they felt university officials heeded their demands. They called for more diversity on campus, more funding for groups made up of minority students and changes in the names of “offensively named” buildings such as Tillman Hall. The hall is named for Benjamin Tillman, who was a self-described racist.

Even as the five emerged from the building with tickets outlining their charges, the sit-in organizers says protesters will stay inside the building through the weekend if school leaders don’t answer their call to improve the racial climate on campus.

Organizer Sherman Jones said the roughly 40 protesters will remain in the lobby of Sikes Hall if the school takes no action.

Before the arrests, Almeda Jacks, the university’s vice president for student affairs, and the school’s Chief of Staff Max Allen, spoke with students and urged them to leave the building late Thursday afternoon.

“Our mode right now is we’ve got to get back to normal business,” Allen said, talking about how the administration building had been overtaken by students since Wednesday.

Jacks said she cared about the students and told them they had until 5:30 p.m. to get their belongings and get out of Sikes.

“If you don’t, I hate to say this, but you could be arrested,” she said.

Jacks went on to talk about how the students could face separate discipline from the university.

“We want you to graduate,” she said.

Many of the students left the building at that point, but stayed outside to show support for the five who refused to go. Student Sherman Jones led a crowd of hundreds in a chant: “We are the Clemson Five. The Clemson Five are us.”

Before the arrests, Clements released a detailed statement outlining the university’s efforts to create a better experience for minority students. He said, in part, that the administration had allocated more than $100,000 per year for travel and special events involving minority students or student organizations whose primary constituencies are underrepresented groups. He talked about the importance of having a multicultural center and said the school has stepped up efforts to recruit minorities.

“Since 2013, we have seen an increase of nearly 13 percent in our African-American undergraduate enrollment and an increase of nearly 31 percent in Hispanic undergraduate enrollment,” Clements wrote. “In the graduate school, we have seen African-American enrollment increased more than 7 percent and Hispanic enrollment more than 36 percent.

“From Fall 15 to Fall 16, we are up 30 percent in African American enrollments and 16 percent overall,” Clements wrote.

The students involved in the protests, including many who did not stay inside, said Clements’ statement is not enough.

“There’s a lot of talk here about the Clemson family,” said Roslie Shumate, a junior from Greenville. “But many, many times, we are not made to feel like we are part of the family.”

New historical markers

Clemson University has broken ground for a historical marker near the spot where slaves and imprisoned black laborers once lived.

During a Tuesday ceremony, school officials acknowledged the part that slavery played on the land that became Clemson University.

The marker outside Lee Hall will honor the recently discovered role that state prisoners, mostly blacks, played in building the school’s first buildings.

Officials also announced the creation of two other markers, one for the nearby former site of a Cherokee Village and the other to mark the burial sites of the Calhoun family, slaves and state prisoners who died during their confinement at Clemson.

The ceremony comes after efforts to rename Tillman Hall, named after Clemson founder and declared white supremacist, Benjamin Tillman, failed last year.

Associated Press