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Over the past year, more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff, and alumni signed letters to Westmont College’s administration calling for action to address racism. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping the nation, three Black alumni (Brittany Bland-Boyd, ‘18; Alesha Bond, ‘20; and Brittany Bancroft, ‘19) and three Black students (Miah Williams, ‘21; Skylar Peterson, ‘23; and Ebun Kalejaiye, ‘23) speak up about their Westmont experiences involving racism and white supremacy that warred with their expectations of a Christian college.
What was your experience at Westmont as a Black woman?
Brittany Bland-Boyd: Growing up in the East Bay, it was a very diverse environment. Coming to Westmont was a complete culture shock. I was often the only Black person in my classes, and I’d get excited anytime I saw a Black professor!
One of my most diverse classes was the Racial Justice series, but I became an encyclopedia for all things pertaining to my race. I’d get into heated discussions, trying to educate people on my basic existence and the rights I should have.
When race-related crimes would occur around our country, however, Westmont students would go about like it was another day. I couldn’t count on the administration to address these injustices or its own race-related issues. There’s a reason why so few Black students are on that campus and why the retention rate is so low, and that reason is racism.
Miah Williams: Only 2 percent of the entire student body looks like me, but Westmont never reflects that in their promotional magazines or websites. My resident assistant has never looked like me, my professors have never looked like me, and not one person in the administration has looked like me. Westmont has been a constant reminder of how lonely it can truly feel on a campus that likes to use the word “diversity” but never implements it.
Skylar Peterson: When I go to events, it feels like they target minority students for photo ops. It’s gotten to a point where my friends and I attempt to duck out of pictures so that they’re unable to tokenize us to push their image of diversity.
When I toured Westmont before I committed, they continually preached how diverse their campus was, but I remember feeling completely lost my first week on campus. I grew up on the East Coast, where there’s more diversity. With other Black people, you immediately have a shared experience. It was scary to see no one the first week who looked like me.
I was at a Westmont event when the n-word was uttered repeatedly by an older gentleman from the community. Not a single faculty member said anything; they acted like it hadn’t been said. The only Black professor in the room finally spoke up to condemn its use. It hit me really hard that the professors who are supposed to mentor and teach students could willfully ignore a word rooted in hate. They clearly have no concern for the safety of their minority students.
The racism, microaggressions, and acts of discrimination come from not only peers but also from administration and faculty. How can I feel safe? My mind is at war between wanting a good education and wanting to prioritize my mental health and physical well-being. It seems to me that at Westmont you cannot have both.
Brittany Bancroft: After I graduated, I co-led a study abroad program in Cairo, where I experienced an egregious act of racism by an Egyptian national. Reeling from shock, I turned to my colleagues: two professors and another recent Westmont graduate. They belittled me and said I misinterpreted the situation — in other words, I was gaslighted. After many difficult conversations, they apologized, but my sense of well-being was stripped away. They then treated me dismissively, excluded me from most decision-making, and mocked me in my final performance review. Three months have passed since I reported the experience. The administration says it will be addressed in July.
Alesha Bond: When Black students and Westmont’s three Black professors raise concerns of unacceptable behavior or racism or hate speech on campus, nothing is done. That silences us. Only within the Intercultural Program community and among other students, staff, and faculty of color do I feel respected.
As a Black student leader, I went above and beyond to prove I was worthy of respect — I knew that was not the case for white students. What I learned at Westmont is that a Black woman will not be as respected as her white peers.
What is the response when you advocate for racial justice?
Bland-Boyd: The administration shows little interest and instead places the work back on Intercultural Program leadership. They asked students of color to educate white faculty and administration on America’s history of white supremacy.
Westmont needs to embrace anti-racism because it’s what Jesus would have done. Jesus was subversive, and he dismantled the system the Pharisees enforced. Westmont can no longer just talk about how bad racism is but must dismantle it from within.
Williams: Not once have I seen the administration at Westmont be an ally for Black students. Whenever a racial incident occurred on campus, administration would never respond or respond far too late. Anytime I or my colleagues brought racial issues to the forefront, we were met with more anger about the manner in which we talked about the issue rather than the actual issue itself.
Ebun Kalejaiye: I have written articles about racial justice for the school newspaper and participated in petitions for change. Students, staff, and faculty gave a positive response to my articles, but the administration simply ignores anything that doesn’t glorify the school. They only become interested when people outside the Westmont community are involved.
Has anything changed?
Bond: The administration believes it is open to change — surface-level changes occur, like diversifying chapel speakers, lectures, and events on campus — but when it comes to structural changes, they drag their feet. Westmont seems to value our well-being but keeps us as tokens. Some staff and faculty care deeply, and Intercultural Programs does a phenomenal job giving Black students a chance to be heard.
Kalejaiye: Westmont does not value, protect, or prioritize the well-being of their students of color. They claim to protect us from harm, when in reality, we need protection from them.
The school held a first-responders breakfast one morning and didn’t notify students. As I walked down to the Dining Commons, I saw police officers and firefighters. Even though I had obviously done nothing wrong, my first inclination was to skip breakfast. My community faces racial discrimination from the police force, and we’re raised to avoid any form of contact with the police.
Westmont is an educational institution. It should be aware of these things. I was too scared to enter my own dining hall. How is that putting my well-being first?
Bancroft: Very little changed while I was a student or an employee, but the potential is great if Black students’ concerns are addressed. I loved many aspects of Westmont, and I’ll always be grateful for the relationships, resources, and opportunities I was blessed with. My greatest hope is that Westmont becomes more thoughtful and compassionate and aligns itself more closely with its Christ-centered mission, so more Black students can thrive without the existing obstacles of racism and prejudice.
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