CCU students boycott classes; want ‘racially insensitive’ professor removed

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CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — Students in Coastal Carolina Univerity’s theatre program said they are boycotting classes until one professor resigns or is removed from his position.

Students of color expressed concern over the weekend to theatre program leadership that they were being singled out after discovering a whiteboard with students of colors’ names separated by race.

Students and the professor responsible have since come to an understanding that there was no malicious intent behind the list of names on the whiteboard, and the professor has since apologized.

In an email chain addressing concerns of students of color, Robert Earnest replied. “Sorry, but I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Earnest wrote. “I’m just sad people get their feelings hurt so easily. And they are going into theatre?”

The protesting students said Earnest was racially insensitive and dismissive of students of color with that response. Kelis Herriott, CCU senior and protest organizer, said this is not the first time Earnest has been identified by students for being racially insensitive.

“My personal response to his email was that his thought process is the reason that we are in this climate that we are in and that the department is a joke,” Herriott said.

In response to the backlash from students and a request for comment from News13, Earnest gave this clarification.

“The current climate on university campuses across America makes it very difficult,” Earnest wrote. “As a white man, any little thing you say can be magnified and/or taken out of context. My (brief) comment was only to steer some students away from another issue they were having and to encourage them to focus on the work at hand. I did say ‘and these people want to go into theatre for a living’ which was interpreted to be said against BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) students but in reality, was directed at all students.”

Michelle Garcia was one of the students protesting Tuesday. Garcia said students had no choice but to stand up and speak out.

“It’s a smaller incident, but it’s bigger in the grand scheme of things because if we let this go then it will get bigger and then there’s no one defending us because we didn’t stop it from the beginning,” Garcia said. “It just keeps snowballing. We’re your future. We’re your students. We’re your children. Don’t you want us to just feel safe?”

Herriott said the protest will continue from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. until the necessary changes are made by the university and the department.

“This is very peaceful,” Herriott said. “We are out here doing homework, continuously doing our class work, because we will turn that in, but we will not sit under leadership of people who don’t stand up for us.”

The university’s provost and chief of staff met with the students Tuesday afternoon. Jihad Levermore was part of the conversation and said students want more information from CCU.

“What’s going on?” Levermore asked. “If he’s not going to be fired, what are they going to do to make sure that this never happens again because it really shouldn’t happen again. Not with him and not with anybody else.” 

Coastal Carolina University provided News13 with a statement in response to a request for comment.

“The leadership of the university and of the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts are aware of the complaints that some of our theatre students have communicated,” CCU said in the statement. “We are working to establish the most appropriate path for resolving their concerns.” 

Herriott said she hopes the work students are doing now has an impact on campus and motivates others to speak up against insensitivity.

“I hope that the freshman and sophomores and underclassmen who are part of this protest will carry this on in case incidents like this happen when we leave this school,” Herriott said.

Count on News13 for updates to this developing story.

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