App State football players lead a march protesting racial injustice August 28. Five days before the protest, police shot seven times into Jacob Blake’s back in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The App State football team cancelled practice for a day in order to spend time talking about racial injustice. (Andy McLean)
“We’re living through unprecedented times:” these are words that have been repeated since March with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as spring break had started to crest over the horizon, news broke of the virus’ arrival in the US. We looked on, unaware of how our lives would be drastically changed in the coming months. For some, study abroad experiences were canceled, vacations were called off, internships and fellowships postponed, and students were sent back to their homes in a scramble to finish their studies from their hometown bedrooms.
Before the virus arrived, the town of Boone saw the closing of a community staple — Earth Fare — and its eventual reopening. Students packed into a lecture hall and listened to Rev. Bradford Lilley, an original Black Panther Party member, speak. “Power to the people,” Lilley said, holding his fist high as he took the stage at his visit in January; A K-9 keg pull was held to raise funds for a local animal rescue; and nearly 250 App State students gathered for the Martin Luther King Jr. day of service in January with the Appalachian & Community Together organization.
The summer saw tragic events of police killings of Black Americans: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and many others. Across the nation, streets were filled with protesters demanding justice and calling for systemic change. Members of the Black at App State Collective reverberated this call on App State’s campus, with students lifting their voices during the “Wake the Chancellor” event in August. Students spoke out about their experiences with racial injustice on campus and in their daily lives and called on those who have power to use it and speak up. The Collective called on the administration for action with a list of demands like Black and Brown representation and mandatory bias training.
In the fall, students moved into the semester with uncertainty. Move-in day was a week-long process with limited friends and family members allowed in residence halls at a time. Students living in dorms experienced a new kind of campus life with the majority of classes online, food trucks on Sanford Mall to supplement reduced dining options and a lack of social gatherings. To handle outbreaks in COVID-19 cases among students, the local Super 8 motel was used to house those who tested positive to quarantine and reduce further spread. The devastating effects of the virus hit closer to home for the App State community with the loss of sophomore Chad Dorrill due to complications from the virus.
As the new year approaches, and with the distribution of a vaccine underway, there is great recovery ahead for Americans. Embarking into 2021 won’t erase what we’ve been through, what we’ve learned and the hard lessons we have yet to learn, or the great work for democracy ahead of us. Together, we will step through the threshold into the new year, with hope for the future, knowledge of the past, and wisdom to make the better decisions in each moment.