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​Minority Rights Coalition checks in on endorsed student leaders

Honor, Student Council Representatives discuss outreach initiatives

The Minority Rights Coalition hosted a panel Tuesday of student leaders they endorsed in last spring’s student elections to follow up on their activities. Students answered questions from the audience and Minority Rights Coalition Chair Blake Calhoun, a fourth-year College student, about their efforts to make their respective organizations more inclusive of minority students. Leaders stressed their efforts in reaching out to a broader segment of the community and including their views.

The panel consisted of Student Council President Jalen Ross, a fourth-year Engineering student, Honor Committee Representative Martese Johnson, a third-year College student, fourth-year Batten student Shanice Hardy, a former University Judiciary Committee representative, along with fourth-year College students: Sky Miller, Student Council vice president for administration; Honor Committee Chair Nicholas Hine; Nick Lee, Honor Committee Vice Chair for Trials; Honor Committee Representative Meg Gould; and University Judiciary Committee Representative Rosa Waters.

“Previously, the MRC was just known for endorsing students … [and] we never really followed up to see how they were doing,” Calhoun said. “When you endorse someone, you are endorsing someone with certain expectations, and we wanted to see if those were being met.”

MRC Chief Publicity Officer Tom Pilnik, a third-year College student, expressed similar concerns.

“I think because we do endorse candidates, and historically that’s been the biggest thing the MRC has done … we thought, let’s bring them together, let’s ask them what they’re doing, let’s hold them accountable,” he said.

The MRC is an umbrella organization composed of seven sub-groups which represent various minority interests on Grounds. The organization endorses candidates based on their commitment to fostering an inclusive campus environment.

“The core purpose [of the MRC] is to bring these organizations together and to strengthen their voices and to give them the ability to talk through one channel,” Pilnik said.

Calhoun said the candidates were seen as “very committed to the cause and realistic” about minority rights at the time of their elections.

“These people were not running with false promises,” she said.

Hine made note of the fact that Honor included non-Honor Committee members in the recruiting process this year to “break the cycle of self-selection.” Hine said he was happy with the progress Honor has made, but stressed there is more work to do.

“Every year it gets better,” Hine said. “But we can’t be complacent with the job that we have done.”

Johnson said challenges remain, noting the lack of an African-American women in the support officer pool this year.

“That made me realize that we are not the diverse organization that we need to be,” he said.

Ross and Miller discussed Student Council’s outreach efforts, particularly through its StudCo Comes to You Initiative, in which Council holds meetings around Grounds to invite participation from other organizations.

“We’ve been working on getting [representatives] to go to different meetings … to get a sense of what we need to be working on,” Miller said.

Ross spoke to the unexpected tragedies at the University this semester, with the deaths of second-year students Hannah Graham and Conor Cormier.

“I think, in a tragic way, the way we could add the most value is by coordinating student responses to the tragedies that happened this semester,” Ross said.

Pilnik commended Student Council’s response to the events.

“A lot has happened to our community, … Jalen’s role has been shrouded with tragedy,” he said. “So progress has been slightly slow, but it’s impressive how much [Student Council] is actually doing and how much they have taken to heart the things they have said to us.”

Waters emphasized the education initiatives UJC has taken up this year, saying she is satisfied with the diversity of this year’s Committee. She said the Committee’s outreach programs to first years were particularly successful.

“One of the biggest challenges that UJC faces is that people don’t know what we do or who we are,” she said.

Calhoun said she was pleased with the outcome of the event.

“I’m happy they all came and were so candid,” Calhoun said. “At the very minimal, it has been very informative for everyone involved, for the panel as well as the audience.”

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