Black alumni, a current student and Purdue's vice provost for diversity inclusion discussed their campus experiences and ideas for how the University could become more inclusive in the future during a livestreamed panel Sunday night.
The virtual conversation, hosted by the Purdue Alumni Association, was titled "Where do we go from here?" The discussion yielded an audience of up to 424 viewers at one point, according to host Sharetha Marshall, assistant director regional outreach for the Purdue Alumni Association. The livestream also received at least 200 questions in its Q&A section, she said.
Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion John Gates shared his own experiences growing up as a black man, and he explained further updates on how Purdue is working to be more inclusive.
He said many years ago he swore he would never return to Indiana after growing up in Gary, but now Gates has returned to help grow Purdue's diversity.
"We are, in my estimation, at least 20 years behind," Gates said, of Purdue's current enrollment of black students.
He said that every year at Purdue, about 3% of incoming undergraduate students are black, and that statistic has remained static for the past 30 years.
"We have a lot of work to do," he said.
Gates explained some of Purdue's diversity initiatives that are meant to help with this, like the creation of the Purdue Polytechnic High Schools. He also gave more details on the "Equity Task Force," first mentioned at a board of trustees meeting earlier this year.
He said he expects the task force will help efforts to grow Purdue's black community in its faculty, staff and students.
The task force will focus particularly on the black experience at Purdue, which he feels will provide an opportunity for alumni to share their experiences as well.
Alumnus Carlos Banks suggested that in order to prevent harmful experiences like microaggressions, people should be open to conversations about others' experiences.
"Be willing to talk to a person of color about their specific experience," Banks said.
He said that by having more of these open conversations, people could become more informed about what reality looks like for black people.
"Detailing our unique experiences can be heavy sometimes," alumnus Ron Landrum said, but he noted that that's the thing about racism, "It's very tough to handle and sometimes in your face."
Landrum also said that he still carries his campus experiences with himself today, and for the most part, he looks back at his time on campus as "wonderful growth opportunities."
Despite that, he said he still had to check his own biases when it came to race. He feels everyone should leave room in themselves for improvement and check their own biases as well.
The moderator for the event, alumnus Daryle Whyte, also spoke to how it is important for them, as black alumni, to aid in improving Purdue's diversity.
"We are the calling card, we are the black Americans (who) attended Purdue,” Whyte said, and he said they should come back and encourage other black students to come to Purdue.
Alumnus Todd Hood spoke about his experience growing up in Tennessee, where all his neighbors were white. He came to Purdue and got his bachelor's in industrial engineering. He said he didn't see as much outright negativity at Purdue as he did when he was growing up, but he still dealt with many microaggressions.
His suggestion for how to move forward in the discussion of race, was to "embrace all types of initiatives and take opportunities to dig deep and educate and be a positive force and constructive."
One student who joined in on the conversation was Joshua Henderson, a senior in the College of Education.
Henderson said that when people talk about leaders, that it's important to discuss how to hold them accountable. He feels that even leaders within the black community are backed by a system and institution which is built on upholding white power.
"In order to abolish racism we have to abolish patriarchy," Henderson said.
Henderson said one change he would like to see at Purdue is more deescalation of the police force on Purdue's campus.
He asked the question of why, if other Big Ten universities can do this, Purdue can't.
At the University of Minnesota, university officials decided to cut some ties with the Minneapolis Police Department, per reporting by The Washington Post. University president Joan Gabel said in a public statement that the university will no longer use MPD officers during large events or utilize their specialized services.
Henderson explained the encounters he has had with police officers at Purdue, and how there are inherent biases within the system that he said lead to heavier policing of the black community, specifically of black fraternities.
"I've gone to ample black frat parties here and one of the things we have to worry about is the police barging in during our parties, and that's one thing that, from my understanding the white fraternities don't have to worry about," he said, "because they have houses in the Acres. Well, the black frats are renting houses."
Gates invited Henderson to have a conversation with him regarding that topic separately from the event, and said he wants to listen to his concerns about police on campus and discuss it further.
In a closing summary of what everyone on the panel would like to see moving forward, alumnus Michael Clark spoke again on the importance of being an accountable leader.
"I say, stop looking for the next Martin, stop looking for the next Malcolm, and you be the leader, be the leader in your community, be the leader at your church," he said, "be the leader in your place of business, you lead, because as we lead, people will follow."