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From Tougaloo to Alcorn: HBCU Students Taking Control of Pandemic Safety

Tougaloo College’s student body has started a hashtag in protest of the administration's tuition increase and the fall reopening plan. Photo by Kristin Brenemen.

A few months ago, Tougaloo College was announcing its plans to open a Social Justice Institute in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Today, it is the student body versus the administration with lines drawn in the sand over how the historically Black college just north of Jackson plans to reopen this fall. 

On July 23, the TougalooTakesControl hashtag started trending on Twitter and across other social-media platforms as students voiced their frustrations and concerns with both how the administration of the private college planned to reopen during the worsening COVID-19 pandemic  as well as raise in tuition following an internal virtual town-hall meeting. 

The student body released a statement sketching out the goal of the hashtag and their demands for change from the administration. 

“In such unprecedented times, the administration has failed at giving the student body clear and concise communication; instead, they have trumpeted hollow platitudes. The student body refuses to sit idly by as the Administration does such a disservice to its students and our school’s integrity,” the statement reads. 

The hashtag has drawn support from alumni, other college institutions like The University of Southern Mississippi,  Dillard University, and Bowie State University, as well as individuals who just want to show their support. 

Tougaloo College’s student body released a collective statement etching out the goal behind their #TougalooTakesControl movement.

The statement said this protest is not an attack on the administration, but is a build-up of their dissatisfaction with some of the administration’s decisions regarding the school. This movement is not for press or fame, but change, they said. 

“Though we have many areas of focus, our most pertinent issues include the increase in tuition, a finalized and detailed return to campus plan, and respect for our student leaders and student body,” the statement explained. “Our official list of demands will be released to the school soon.” 

Tougaloo’s Administration Responds

Tougaloo’s administration released a statement on July 24 in response to the student body as well. In the statement, the administration said they value the thoughts of their students and are committed to the progression of Tougaloo through collaboration between students and administration. 

Caption: Tougaloo College’s administration released a statement on July 24 in response to the student body’s protest against the reopening plan and increase in tuition.  Photo by Tougaloo College.

“As we navigate through these uncertain times, we humbly request that our students, alumni and friends join us in this mission by continuing to support the institution by leading and understanding the decisions that have been made by our administration, giving primacy to the safety and welfare of all involved,” the statement reads. 

On July 30, Tougaloo’s administration released its reopening plan for the school year following an update pushing Mississippi into first place for the highest positivity rate in the country. Virtual class will begin on Aug. 6 with hybrid and in-class instruction beginning Sept. 9. Classes with enrollment numbers of 15 or more would be required to meet online. 

The campus also shifted move-in dates for all students with SGA members and athletes moving in Aug. 30; freshmen and transfer students moving in Aug. 31 and  Sept. 1; and returning students moving in Sept. 3-7. Room and board will be adjusted according to move-in dates. 

Tougaloo’s student body is not speaking to the press at this time. However, Mississippi Free Press plans to follow this story and follow up with the student body at their behest. 

‘Demanding Change’

In the midst of demanding change from their administration, Tougaloo students also encouraged other college students to make their voice heard against institutions that use their power ineffectively. And it seems to be working. 

The hashtag is still continuing more than a week later, with similar movements spurring at Talladega College, a historically Black college in Alabama, and Alcorn State University, a historically Black university in Lorman, Miss. Students have started hashtag RevampTalladega and hashtag AlcornAnarchy, respectively. 

Talladega College students have started their own hashtag RevampTalladega and join the movement with Alcorn State and Tougaloo College to make their voices heard and demand change from their administration. Photo by Talladega College.

Alcorn’s student body is frustrated with the school’s reopening plan, “A Brave Start.” The strategy “was developed with a shared governance approach by way of subcommittees made up of faculty, staff, students, and healthcare professionals,” the school’s website says.

Residential students will return to Alcorn State in stages, it says, and any students who test positive for COVID-19 will be sanctioned in designated rooms for quarantine and isolation. The plan also prohibits large gatherings in residential spaces, limiting visitation and restriction of social gatherings. Masks and social distancing will be required with hand sanitizers and other disinfecting items distributed throughout campus. 

The university’s president, Felecia M. Nave, hosted a series of town-hall meetings with faculty and students on July 28 and July 29 to discuss reopening plans in the wake of COVID-19. But students were not happy that there were no options to take classes online. 

In response, an anonymous Alcorn student started a petition with more than 1,400 signatures for the option to take classes virtually for everyone’s health and safety. Students are also pushing back against new fees that the university is charging them without explanation. 

“As a result of these instructions, Alcorn State University will not be offering online formats for any classes that were already deemed face-to-face prior to this COVID-19 outbreak,” the petition says. 

“This blatant disregard for students’ health and wellness is of great concern to the Alcorn community, and we are demanding CHANGE!”

Alcorn Administration Responds

On Aug. 4, Alcorn State University responded with a phased-plan for returning to campus. Classes will be held online for the first three weeks starting Aug. 17. Two days before classes begin, the university will start allowing students to move into the dorms over several weekends. 

“The revised, gradual schedule will reduce density and ensure appropriate physical distancing, the availability of personal protective equipment and disinfection supplies, and access to proper testing capabilities for COVID-19—all in accordance with Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) safe start guidelines and the Mississippi State Department of Health,” the statement reads. 

Alcorn’s student body has taken after Tougaloo College and has launched their own hashtag against their administration for not giving an option for online classes and for charging them extra fees without explanation. Photo by Alcorn State University.

Residential students can opt to remain home during the virtual start and then move in on Sept. 6-8. In-person classes will begin Sept. 9 with reduced class sizes and will follow the outline of “A Brave Start” plan. 

“The pandemic has presented unique challenges for our entire community as well as the operations of our campus locations. Alcorn will continue to carefully monitor the situation and adjust as necessary. The health and well-being of students, faculty, and staff is its highest priority. Along with other colleges and universities, the fall semester will look different than it has in years past,” a statement from the administration reads. 

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