Friday, December 9, 2022

William & Mary publication becomes home for black student voices

The Black Voice is a platform for William & Mary students to share their writing and artwork with the community at large. (WYDaily/Courtesy The Black Voice)
The Black Voice is a platform for William & Mary students to share their writing and artwork with the community at large. (WYDaily/Courtesy The Black Voice)

An online student publication is giving a voice to black students on William & Mary’s campus.

The Black Voice wrapped up its first year of publication when students graduated last weekend.

The Black Voice calls itself William & Mary’s only student publication that is dedicated to publishing content created by and for African American students. Content includes blog posts, artwork, poetry and podcasts that foster discussion of the happenings on campus, around town and in society from a black perspective.

“Having something that is specifically for the black students is special in the way that people can go to the website for our content and they know what we’re doing is specifically for them,” said Camryn Easley, a W&M student and editor for the publication.

Easley, a rising junior working toward a psychology degree, said The Black Voice is largely composed of underclassmen. As a young program, Easley said the publication recruited heavily at freshmen organizational fairs on campus to fill its ranks.

The publication also has graduate students like Ravynn Stringfield, who is in the American Studies graduate program.

Stringfield said she works primarily in an advisory role, mentoring undergraduates on pitching stories, editing their writing and helping them balance their schoolwork with extracurricular activities.

The logo for The Black Voice. (WYDaily/Courtesy The Black Voice)
The logo for The Black Voice. (WYDaily/Courtesy The Black Voice)

“As someone who is getting a Ph.D. to go into the academy so I can teach students, it’s been gratifying to watch them grow,” Stringfield said. “I really appreciate the fact they’ve taken the time to share their opinions because I know how tough it is.

“Once they get their stuff on the website for the first time you see them getting hungrier to share more,” she added.

Contributors share their experiences as black students on a campus where Stringfield said a group such as The Black Voice is needed. She pointed to her own American Studies graduate program, where she said she can count on one hand the number of non-white students. Faculty of color are also in short supply.

“You would think there would be more diversity specifically in an American studies program,” Stringfield said.

W&M’s administration has identified lack of diversity as a problem through its task force on race relations.

The task force recommended the creation of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, whose aim is to create a community that is diverse and inclusive. President Taylor Reveley announced $1 million in funding for recruiting non-white faculty in 2016.

W&M Chief Diversity Officer Fanchon Glover said the college has made strides in regards to  diversity in recent years, citing the college’s Lemon Project, in which Stringfield participates. She admitted the college has not had as much success with their efforts in the graduate programs, so the college is expanding outreach to underrepresented communities and offering more tuition assistance.

Student musicians got together to discuss their music. (WYDaily/ Courtesy The Flat Hat)
Student musicians got together to discuss their music for an article Easley wrote for The Flat Hat. (WYDaily/ Courtesy The Flat Hat)

“We’d love to be able to increase our faculty and student diversity in two years, in one year,” Glover said. “We may not have made all the progress we wanted to, but we have not sat back and said, ‘No, we’re not going to work hard toward these things.’”

While the college’s efforts are ongoing, The Black Voice continues to expand its own efforts on campus.

The group has between 10 and 15 regular members who attend monthly meetings, Easley said, with additional contributors generating content for the website from time to time. She anticipates those numbers will only grow in 2018-19 academic year.

The publication will make its podcasts a weekly endeavor next semester, and Easley said she’ll try to include more artwork and music on the website. They will also look for opportunities to partner with Underground @WM, which is another group that covers marginalized communities on campus.

“The point of The Black Voice is not to be an exclusionary thing; it’s supposed to be inclusionary,” Easley said. “It’s just an additional publication that caters to a different target audience.”

Easley added the response from the campus community has been largely positive. An article Easley wrote about an protest of a speaker from the ACLU on campus last fall drew the ire of some smaller news sites and their commenters, but otherwise she said she’s felt the publication has been well-received on campus, even beyond the black community.

“The fact that students on campus who are not minorities have heard of it and knew what it is, that was something we were concerned about when we first started,” Easley said. “We made The Black Voice for these students but we don’t want only these students to read or listen.”

One moment stands out in her mind, when a white student approached her and complimented her on The Black Voice.

“I was a little shocked. I don’t know how it reached her,” Easley said.

Easley then conducted and informal poll on campus to see how many students of different backgrounds were familiar with The Black Voice. Many of the students she asked had visited the website.

For the publication’s first year, Easley considers that quite an accomplishment.

“Getting our name out there beyond our target audience was something to be proud of,” she said.

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