This month marks one year since a difficult and challenging time in the history of the University and the greater Charlotte community. The police-involved shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, which occurred about a mile from UNC Charlotte’s main campus, spurred civil unrest in the city, followed by peaceful demonstrations on campus.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force, which at the time of the shooting was already engaged in examining how to reduce barriers to economic opportunity for families frustrated by intergenerational poverty, said that “[f]or many who view our community as a beacon of prosperity and live in relative comfort and affluence, Charlotte seemed an unfathomable setting for racial protests. However, for those whose voices have been ignored, or missed in our collective gazing at civic progress, it was no revelation that long-standing frustrations were finally being aired in the streets.”
The Task Force specifically called on UNC Charlotte to act as a thought-leader on economic opportunity — to help find ways for all Charlotte-area residents to have access to the education and support systems they need to succeed. The University’s seven academic colleges have all worked to identify ways in which the University can help address the Task Force’s recommendations, particularly those relating to college and career readiness. Those recommendations will be assessed and refined during the fall semester.
But what lessons has the UNC Charlotte community learned during the year since those turbulent weeks? UNC Charlotte magazine asked several current and former students to reflect on last September’s events and what changes they’ve seen since that time.
Lauren Bullock (’18) 22, Newport News, Virginia
Sociology; minor in Africana studies
“Since the Keith Lamont Scott shooting, I have seen a lot of changes on campus as far as putting together groups to be able to freely speak on subjects regarding police brutality and other issues affecting marginalized communities.
It is important to be able to have students of all backgrounds come and join the conversation. A lot of students come from communities where they have never been exposed to people of different backgrounds. This can cause a lot of backlash and misunderstanding and miscommunication.
That is why it is so important to have these conversations and make everyone feel welcome … [and making] sure every community is present. When you have conversations about things that affect one community, that community should not be the only one there. You should have all communities in the conversation.
Many times people think that because they are not part of a community, they don’t have a voice in it. This is not true. It affects them too. Martin Luther King said, ‘An injustice for one is an injustice for all.’ We can’t keep living in an individualistic mindset, as if it does not affect me or my family. We are all connected. If you do not take care of others, then you are nothing.
Being in the Black Student Union taught me a lot about service. Being a part of it has helped me learn what service is. It taught me that service makes you relevant. Without it, the world cannot progress. Because that’s what we are here to do, whether it is to serve your God or other people or the environment.
This is what we are meant to do … [b]eing here and having the opportunity to serve. It’s our duty to make sure we are connecting with people who were not allowed this opportunity and making sure those people who are not here also know what is going on.”
Fahn Darkor (’17) 22, Greensboro, North Carolina
“As a result of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting, the 49er community…[became] more vocal and active in social injustice. Students were consistently speaking up for what they believe in and rallying behind causes they thought our campus should be aware about.
As a result of this, local news stations began to pay attention to what was happening at UNC Charlotte and would frequently reach out to student leaders to provide their perspective on topics. This provides our community with a platform to amplify our voices.
Ultimately, some vocalized opinions made students feel uncomfortable, but that is where you learn the most about yourself and others. They allow us to open our eyes to the diverse perspectives our students have and reflect on what we value the most, justice. From the experience I learned that we are stronger as a community when we respond as a community.”
Anthony Mower (’17) 22, Gaithersburg, Maryland
Biology and Psychology
“From the time of … this tragic event, I have been able to see great strengths develop from our student body, [t]he most prominent of which is how unified students have become… [on] issues of social injustice. I was able to see a lot of student organizations and students come together and talk about these issues in a peaceful manner.
Also, professors and advisors were great for talking about feelings within a safe environment for my peers and myself. My hope is that we unite our campus even further on such issues so that we may set the example of what it means to stand for basic human rights.
The biggest lesson is knowing how to be supportive for people of communities that I can’t identify with. As a white male, I can’t speak to what it is like to be a person of another ethnicity within our society.
However, I can be a person … [who] is there to listen to those of the certain communities to try and understand what they are going through, to support them in their time of need. The day after the event, the MRC [Multicultural Resource Center] was holding a Food for Thought session, which … [became] a roundtable discussion on how people were feeling regarding the loss of this human life. I took [it] upon myself to LISTEN to the words that were being said rather than to speak on how I was feeling. From this I have become a stronger advocate for educating people of my community to understand what it is like to be a person of different background.”
Javier Negrete (’18) 22, Newton, North Carolina
“From my perspective, I think the campus was a little bit more awakened to the circumstances that a lot of students of color feel on [a] campus that is predominantly white. It was more of a wake-up call for everyone. Not that we feel strong animosity.
However, we know of many social injustices that have happened. Ever since… [the unrest] we felt, ‘Oh wow, this is real.’ It was very real to everyone who was feeling it. Following the shooting, there was a huge feeling of solidarity on behalf of the community from students of color. That was [a] strong opportunity for students to get into a reflective mode for a while.
I think a lot of students took [it] upon themselves to become more there for each other. I think it was like the Black Lives Matter movement across the nation, with people becoming more aware and being in a place of solidarity. Most of the students who already knew what was going [on] were experiencing dialogues with other students who were not so knowledgeable. And this can be taxing. For example, I felt it when I had to keep explaining to some other students why I felt uncomfortable. So we need to allow the dialogue to continue to happen so we can work through these hard times.”
Libby Nixon (’17) 22, Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Communication Studies/ Organizational Communication Major
“I am fortunate enough to be able to promote unity and help the community grow in harmony and mutual respect. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn to get to this point was that when people feel targeted or otherwise slighted it is very difficult for them to process their own pain, let alone the pain of others.
An individual … feels their own emotions first. The exception to this is in friendship. When something happens that could affect a friend significantly, most people turn their concerns to their friends because they care about them. This is the change I have gotten to see over the last year. It started slow, and this community has a lot more healing to do before it can reach its full potential, but the number of strong friendships between those that were divided in the chaos surrounding the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott are increasing every day.
No one is forgetting; we are just continually realizing the need for progress. We are recognizing the strengths in each other in addition to the differences. It isn’t going to be easy, but now, when something goes wrong or when there is an injustice affecting any part of the community, I don’t think there is the automatic assumption others don’t care or will never understand. I believe that there is a long fight ahead, with seemingly insurmountable problems, but little by little we are growing together.”
Ena Walker (’18) 21, Beaufort, North Carolina
Business-Organization Management Major
“Since the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, UNC Charlotte’s community has changed in a few different ways. Immediately after the events that took place, many students, especially students of color, at UNC Charlotte became much more vocal about the issues we saw and the places where the University could’ve been stronger in their response to the events. Peaceful protests assembled out across campus and continued through the spring semester.
The student leadership at UNC Charlotte is strong and we always push to have more student opinions in high-up decisions, and the Keith Lamont Scott shooting was no different. Though we did receive support from some crucial campus administrators, such as Dean Christine Reed Davis, there was a definite lack of support [from] the…teaching staff at the University. The day after the shooting took place, many professors went about business as usual, making many students feel that their pain was unimportant. The silence was deafening. …[M]uch of the student body found support within their peers, and I would say our student body is much closer now than last year after the events.
From this experience, I learned that though I may attend classes with and learn from many different individuals at this University, a university that strives for inclusivity and diversity, not all of them appreciate or understand the importance of unity amongst all students and the hard conversations [that] need to be had to achieve that. The shooting burst my happy UNC Charlotte bubble but, now awake, I can appreciate further the wonderful allies that do support our student body and the unification we all seek.”
Compiled by Paul Nowell, senior communications manager in the UNC Charlotte Office of University Communication.
This article appears in the Fall/Winter 2017 UNC Charlotte magazine; watch for the magazine's release in late September/early October.