A piece by Communications Fellow Chris Hart-Williams
Young people will join thousands at the “Moral March on Raleigh” to visibly challenge attacks on voting rights, economic justice, public education, equal protection under the law, and more at the annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street, HKonJ march through downtown Raleigh on Saturday, Feb. 14.
“I’m going to HKonJ because my first experience was a good one, and also I want to express my concern with the school-to-prison pipeline,” Bernard Fields a junior at UNC Pembroke studying international business with a concentration in marketing said.
The school to prison pipeline is a system too many North Carolina school children fall victim to. It’s a system of laws, policies and practices that pushes students out of school and on a pathway toward the juvenile criminal justice system.
Quisha Vaughn, who is also a student will be at the march. Vaughn studies chemistry at Elizabeth City State University, ECSU in northeastern North Carolina.
During the summer of 2014, it was publically announced that ECSU was potentially the target of a UNC Board of Governors study that looked into dissolving system schools suffering with low enrollment. ECSU is one of the 16 UNC-System institutions. Lawmakers amended the budget to end the closing provision only after hearing outcry throughout the state.
“Students from all over decided that coming together to help a fellow HBCU was needed because that could have easily been their school. We understood that the legacy our founders created had to be continued,” Vaughn said.
The NC Senate budget mandated the study for campuses where full-time enrollment declined by more than 20 percent since 2010. ECSU saw a 26 percent enrollment drop between 2010 and 2013 — the only UNC school that meets that definition.
Closing ECSU, an economic hub in the northeastern region of the state would be “putting hundreds of people out of worK” said Vaughn.
In January the UNC Board of Governors voted to eliminate four degree programs at ECSU. Its studio art, marine environmental science, physics and geology programs were cut to save $468,000 annually, according to the New and Observer.
Vaughn said she wants lawmakers to support all institutions of higher-education in the state no matter their size.
“Because we are smaller institutions does not mean we are of less importance.”
According to Vaughn, her fellow Vikings felt the same as her when she found out that proposed program cuts at ECSU were going to be carried out by the UNC Board.
“Students felt hurt, alone, and let down,” Vaughn said. “They were disappointed because they felt as though they had put their trust and education in the hands of people who were supposed to protect them and make sure they get the best quality education.”
Now many ECSU students sense that there is lack of communication, security, and stability, according to Vaughn.
“When I applied and was accepted, I made a conscious decision that I wanted to start my legacy here,” Vaughn said.
In Spring 2014 she ran for class president to become a voice for her peers and that she wants to continue to do so.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities are sixth on the 14 Point People’s Agenda for North Carolina, it calls for the state to financially support HBCUs, and develop equitable infrastructure and programs with doctoral-level leadership for today’s challenges, the agenda reads.
It also lists action steps which include rejecting any proposed tuition hikes supporting the establishment of an HBCU Development Commission with staff and a long-term mandate to increase public and private funding for the HBCUs as well for need-based scholarships, higher faculty salaries, better recruitment programs and stronger curricula.
Ignite NC fellows will be mobilizing our local communities and campuses to HKonJ to uplift the work we will be doing this Spring to ensure that all workers have a living wage and right to a union, that all students will not be met with attacks on their public education, that HBCUs will not be defunded, that youth and students of color will not be met with police brutality and violence, and that North Carolina move towards a more progressive future for all who call it home.
Chris Hart-Williams is a senior at North Carolina State University. There he is studying political science. He currently serves as editor-in-chief of N.C. State’s Nubian Message and is a former staff writer of the student paper Technician. Chris received a certificate of appreciation from the state of NC while a communications intern at the Office of State Human Resources in Spring 2014. He also worked as an intern at WRAL News in the Fall of 2014.