Last night’s presidential debate thrust Belmont University into the national spotlight. And as protesters crowded the sidewalks outside campus, many students took the opportunity to protest their own college.
Some students say they want Belmont to take a stronger stand on social issues.
As Trump flags, Biden signs and protest songs all filled the air, Riley Ward stood in a crowd of Belmont students calling for change on campus. She says she’s disappointed the university decided to host the debate, instead of taking a stand against President Donald Trump.
“There’s a lot of poor students that go to campus. There’s a lot of Black students, Hispanic students. There’s students who came from immigrant families,” Ward says. “And so, them not making a statement is really hurting those students.”
The Belmont senior worries hosting the presidential debate sends the wrong message to students who may already feel marginalized on a predominantly white campus. Belmont University is 79.2% white, according to its website.
Ward is with the group Be Better Belmont, which is urging the university to cut ties with for-profit prison company CoreCivic. They want the CEO of the Brentwood-based company to resign from Belmont’s board and for the university to stop accepting donations from a corporation they say violates human rights. CoreCivic says activists are spreading misinformation for politically motivated reasons.
— Samantha Max (@samanthaellimax) October 22, 2020
Belmont has not responded to a letter of demands from the student activists, and Ward says she feels frustrated and ignored, especially when she pays private-university tuition.
But she says she and her friends hope the school — which prides itself on its Christian values — will be more outspoken about racism, climate change and other political topics.
“I think there can be situations where you’re middle ground, but this stuff going on right now, there’s no middle ground whatsoever,” says fellow senior Caitlin Ferguson. “I think there’s an obvious answer, and I think that Belmont not saying anything is not OK.”
Belmont University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.