Learning About Allyship and Advocacy During Black History Month
Hannah Burns, a junior English major at Clemson University, is making strides within her sorority to encourage education and advocacy regarding race and privilege. As a member of Alpha Chi Omega, Hannah aims to learn more about what she can do as an individual to educate herself on social issues, as well as incorporate this into the curriculum of the Greek community at Clemson.
Last year, Alpha Chi Omega established the executive position of vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at the national level. Hannah serves as the assistant to this position, creating opportunities for herself and her peers to take education into their own hands. She is currently implementing a diversity, equity and inclusion book club that will create an environment for participants to recognize their implicit biases and encourage inclusivity. “When Alpha Chi Omega announced that they were creating a position for diversity, equity, and inclusion, it was one of the first things that I thought of,” said Hannah. “It seemed like a no-brainer to have a book club.” They are starting with The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. This book draws readers’ attention to the caste-like system of prisons across the United States that perpetually affects men and women of color, especially Black Americans.
Following the rise of Black Lives Matter movement and a summer that saw increased protests against racialized violence triggered in part by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, many white people are recognizing their role within systemic racism. It is not enough to claim that you are not racist, but to be actively anti-racist by engaging in change rather than being a bystander. Hannah has engaged in conversations about what her privilege entails since May, causing her to take action and prompt her peers to do the same. The creation of this book club is significant to Hannah’s initiative to educate herself and others because, as she says, “It is important to have a community within the chapter that is actively working to make themselves better and be more aware of what is happening.” It is essential to recognize that it is not the job of Black and Indigenous individuals or people of color (BIPOC) to educate white people, but for white people to listen and uplift the voices of others.
Hannah decided to get involved in opportunities at Clemson this year that promote diversity, equity and inclusion. She currently serves as the vice president of It’s On Us, an organization that provides resources and support to survivors of interpersonal violence on college campuses. Hannah also joined the Call My Name Student Advisory Board, which works with Dr. Rhondda Thomas to tell the stories of the Black laborers who built Clemson University. The Student Advisory Board began as a cemetery task force, helping Dr. Thomas memorialize the Black laborers buried in Woodland Cemetery. It has now grown into something much bigger, aiming to tell the story of racial history of Clemson’s campus through research and activism.
Within the English department, there are classes and professors who inspire Hannah to become more involved in anti-racist work. She speaks highly of Professor Kimberly Snyder Manganelli and her American literature survey one class. Hannah says that the course “changed the way that I look at American history.” Professor Manganelli’s course focuses on narratives of enslaved persons that detail the power dynamics and histories of abuse, which facilitate conversations between the students. Creating a safe space for conversations regarding race inspired Hannah to create the book club in her sorority.
Hannah’s current plan for the book club includes reading one book per semester and hosting meetings periodically. This grants time for members to read the titles and break down the material rather than being overwhelmed by information. Hannah encourages members to come in with quotes and questions in order to facilitate important conversations and individualize the impact that the book club will have. The goal for Alpha Chi Omega’s diversity, equity and inclusion book club is to unlearn biases while learning about racism and privilege.
As the first meeting will take place during the last week of February, it is important to recognize and celebrate Black History Month, specifically Black history at Clemson. The creation of book clubs and other opportunities for education and allyship is important for shaping the future of this university.
Hannah Burns’ efforts show how college students can use their voices and privilege to promote advocacy and engage in conversations about BIPOC narratives as an attempt to educate individuals. Actions like these are just the first step in creating change at Clemson.
Written by: Chandler Brown