By Erin Brady| email@example.com
To say that St. Augustine has had a complicated history of racism would be an understatement. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., upon visiting this city, called it “the most lawless community” he had ever encountered due to the amount of vitriolic resistance to civil rights.
Because of this, it is easy to get swept up in the glitz and glamour of Flagler College upon arrival if you are white. If you are not, then our town’s past comes back to haunt.
However, a group of passionate students and the newly founded Office for Diversity and Inclusion are looking to diversify Flagler by uplifting the voices of the black and brown students currently in attendance.
“The opportunity for this Office actually came to me,” said Heather Carter, the coordinator of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, with a smile.
This is her first year at Flagler College, and calls it a learning experience from all aspects.
“I have gotten to know so much about the culture, campus, and community of Flagler, and I have learned that diverse students need support and empowerment, as well.”
To Carter, diversity comes not just in race, but also social class, sexuality, and other factors.
“The highlight of my job is meeting students from all different kinds of backgrounds,” she said.
“They see challenges in different perspectives than the faculty too, and that’s very important.”
That is not to say that lack of racial diversity is not a genuine concern on campus that the Office intends to ease. According to the ‘Princeton Review’, a staggering 76.93% of students are Caucasian, with 3.78% of the population consisting of African Americans and other Black Americans.
Barely 7% of the population are Hispanic (although they could also identify as white, as white Latinx students exist due to the centuries-long colonization of native Hispanic lands by Europeans) and 5.27% of students are of an unknown or unlisted race.
Some of these diverse students are helping to make change of their own. The Black Student Association, or BSA for short, of Flagler College is an organization that has recently held a large number of events commemorating Black History Month.
These ranged from the educational to the entertaining, with special guests and collaborations occurring throughout these events.
One of these guests was Civil Rights activist Rodney Hurst Sr., who hosted a Real Talk 101 event on race relations. The author of “It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke,” he spoke about topics such as Ax Handle Saturday (in which he participated in) and what he calls the “incomplete, dishonest, and racist history” of the United States.
At the head of these events is senior Phaedra DeJarnette, the president of Flagler’s BSA.
“I became involved in BSA my freshman year,” she said.
“It was actually the first club that I joined when coming to Flagler because I wanted the opportunity to meet and share my experiences with other black students.”
One of these people is sophomore Rory Thompson, the BSA events coordinator.
“My responsibility in the club is to plan events, set them up, promote them, and manage them,” he said.
Ever since becoming more involved in the organization in the spring semester of his freshman year, he applies his experience as the chair of the Student Government Association’s spirit committee into his work in BSA.
Despite glimmers of hope on Flagler campus created by these establishments, devastating discrimination continues today, with the West Augustine and Lincolnville communities experiencing gentrification and poverty. Efforts by community activists to remove Confederate statues in the Plaza de la Constitución and to instead put them in historical museums have also failed to gain significant government traction.
Flagler itself also arguably has a ways to go, since the vast majority of events are coordinated by BSA itself without the help of faculty.
“I do not think that black students should have to yell in order to be seen and yet that is how it is at the moment,” DeJarnette said.
“With uplifting comes acknowledgement which comes change, and the minority students want to see change at Flagler.”
“We have to take very small steps in order to make change, and when the school itself and not us organize events, we’ll start seeing real change on campus,” Thompson said.
However, Carter is hopeful that the actions of the Office as well as the BSA will catch the eye of the Board of Directors due to the involvement of one important figure.
“Dr. Joyner has attended quite a few of the events and he approves immensely,” she said.
The burden that St. Augustine carries daily will always be prevalent; the Foot Soldiers Monument continues to stand in the Plaza De La Constitución, and the Accord Freedom Trail offers a tour of 31 historical civil rights markers throughout the city. Although not as promoted as much as colonial relics throughout the city, St. Augustine’s disturbing past of racial inequality continues to be preserved.
“The racism that exists within St. Augustine is deeply rooted in history,” Carter says about the community.
“It is so crucial that Flagler is the catalyst for change and that the students realize that their voices are strong enough to marry the community.”
The BSA is planning some big developments in the future, events which DeJarnette is very excited for.
“Long term goals for BSA include really growing to a bigger organization, meeting with other BSAs and BSUs from the colleges in Jacksonville and other surrounding areas,” she said.
“We also want to let the rest of the school know more about what we do as an organization.”
As for Thompson, he also is excited for the organization to grow.
“I really want to make bigger events for students to attend, as well as holding more events in the Virginia Room.”
Carter hopes to grow the Office for Diversity and Inclusion into a whole department in the future, as well. “I want to make this office a space for students to feel safe,” she says, “and have it become a multicultural center of sorts.”
Flagler College is at a precarious situation at the moment due to the recent COVID-19 measures. However, students can find out more about the Black Student Association and the Office for Diversity and Inclusion on their Instagram pages: @flaglerbsa and @flagler_diversity_inclusion.