With movements like Black Lives Matter and recent conversations about the removal of the Lawrence Sullivan “Sully” Ross statue, former students, current students and faculty have come together to address racism on Texas A&M’s campus.
Kenneth Robinson, Class of '94, founded Aggie Conversations: Forum To Talk Openly About Race to share minority experiences and answer questions from non-Black Aggies who are “seeking to understand the Black Experience in America and Texas A&M.”
Robinson said he was inspired to create the forum after the murder of George Floyd and the following national conversation about race.
“As a leader at Texas A&M, I wanted the University that I love dearly to have a forum where we could all talk to each other openly about race,” Robinson said. “The hopes and goals of the forum are centered around listening to and learning from each other's perspectives: white, black, yellow and green. The goal is to have an environment where your perspective will be listened to and received.”
Through these discussions Robinson said the forum has shown that Aggies want to grow, listen and foster great life experiences for others.
“I have sincerely been impressed with the depth of some of the questions and the open participation of all Aggies during the forum,” Robinson said.
After sharing his personal experiences of racism on campus through police harassment, classroom intimidation and organized exclusion, Robinson said he has learned that some of his white colleagues simply had no clue about some of the issues that minorities have endured at Texas A&M.
“Aggies are now searching to find out what’s really going on, instead of interpreting the world solely by what they, themselves, experience,” Robinson said. “I am optimistic and encouraged.”
At the July 7 lunch forum, speakers Rodney Pennywell, Class of ’86, Darron Edwards, Class of '92, and Elizabeth Barnes, Class of ’21 answered questions from non-Black Aggies.
When asked what her hope is for A&M, Barnes said she wants A&M to become a marketplace for ideas where people can come together and not feel uncomfortable voicing their thoughts because they are different from someone else's.
“I really would hope that Texas A&M can reflect not only the demographics of Texas but also [that] it is a place anyone can come to and feel comfortable growing and learning as a student and expanding your mindset,” Barnes said. “I don’t want you to be able to come to Texas A&M and leave thinking the same way that you did coming in. I want it to become a place that embodies diversity of thought and not only skin color.”
Edwards said he wants students to be challenged academically and become agents of change who are encouraged to have uncomfortable conversations that can foster growth.
“When you become uncomfortable, that’s when the learning starts,” Edwards said.
After starting the forum, Robinson said he has received a plethora of emails and calls, primarily from white Aggies, thanking him for hosting the forum and educating others.
“The Aggie community has really embraced the forum,” Robinson said. “I welcome and answer each and every call or email. I know for a fact the forum has changed the hearts, thoughts and lives of some of its participants. If one person is better for participating in the forum, I consider it a success.”
In the future, Robinson said he hopes that Aggie Conversations becomes a new tradition at A&M and Aggies continue to keep talking, learning and growing.
“Aggies talk to one another,” Robinson said. “Aggies have real conversations that matter. My hope is that this forum never dies, but becomes an integral part in how we communicate to prospective students and parents, to current students and to former students. Race shouldn’t be a topic that we don’t regularly discuss.”