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The Appalachian

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The Appalachian

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‘Save Our Voices’ protest calls for action among administrators

Students+organize+on+Sanford+Mall+for+the+Save+Our+Voices+Rally+on+March+3.+Onlookers+listen+as+LGBTQ%2B+students+share+their+stories%2C+experiences+and+frustrations+with+recent+changes+in+university+policy.
Ella Adams
Students organize on Sanford Mall for the Save Our Voices Rally on March 3. Onlookers listen as LGBTQ+ students share their stories, experiences and frustrations with recent changes in university policy.

On Wednesday, students rallied together during the “Save Our Voices” peaceful protest hosted by App State College Democrats on Sanford Mall at noon.

 The “Save Our Voices” protest saw speakers from the LGBTQ+ community and students from the Department of Art who addressed their concerns to the crowd of approximately 100-150 people. Political candidates and activists were also in attendance, including Anderson Clayton, current chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party and Ben Massey, current North Carolina House Representative candidate. 

This protest follows previous events held by students in response to the remodeling of the free expression tunnels, the renaming of Pride Week to Spring Fest and the lack of resources and safety concerns of art students.

Jack Yordy, president of App State College Democrats, spoke first during the rally.

An anonymous masked student silently stands at the edge of the March 3 Save Our Voices Rally on Sanford Mall. (Ella Adams)

“Where is Sheri?” Yordy asked the crowd. “Our university is figuratively and literally collapsing. Our LGBTQ+ students don’t feel safe anymore, and she is nowhere to be found.”

Evan Foster, a first-year public health major, spoke next. Foster addressed a recent email from Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J.J. Brown sent out Tuesday and discussed how App State “rebranded” Spring Fest events.

“Silence is never protection. Censorship is never protection,” Foster said. “I don’t know a single member of the LGBTQ community who feels affirmed and celebrated this week, as J.J. Brown’s email claims.”

Foster later discussed the timing of the events that have unfolded in relation to the semester.

 “The timing of all of this is very convenient. We have six weeks left and then summer, where many of us speaking today will graduate, and the new class moves in, and the administration can sweep this under the rug.” Foster said. “Unlucky for them, I’m a freshman. I have three years to hold them accountable and to make sure J.J. Brown takes this into account, as they wrote in their email.”

Abby Dent, a junior art education major, is a student organizer for the protests held by students of the art department. Dent spoke about the heavy emphasis in art education classes on creating a safe learning environment for students.

“If students are not given a stable place to learn, they simply will not,” Dent said.

Dent continued to say how it feels like there was a lack of care and thought put into the construction of Wey Hall and the relocation of art students and classrooms to other buildings, such as East Hall.

“I cannot speak more highly of the interactions with students and staff that I’ve experienced during my time here, but unfortunately cannot say the same for the university’s administration, who has continuously shown a lack of concern for our department,” Dent said. “To the dean of the art department, how can you say you care about the people you overlook when you weren’t even aware of the conditions we were facing?”

Dent concluded by emphasizing the importance of art to students and those creating it. 

A group of protesting students face a crowd of about 150, holding signs expressing frustration with the university at the March 3 Save Our Voice Rally on Sanford Mall. (Ella Adams)

Next to speak was Elizabeth Elrod, a music therapy graduate student, chancellor’s scholar of App State and graduate student government association senator.

Elrod said she has faced discrimination “intimately” for being a transgender woman in the past. She said she has had the opportunity of meeting supportive people since recently moving to Boone but has also faced discrimination and ableism during her time at App State.

Elrod said she found comfort in speaking with former DEI Educational Development and Campus Climate Strategies Director Jax Lastinger about the discrimination she faced. She was shocked to hear that Lastinger said they were recently “fired without cause” along with another employee who was a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The Appalachian has not been able to confirm details or the reason behind the employment terminations.

Elrod said she had an emergency meeting with Jamie Parson, chief diversity officer at App State, where she discussed her issues and concerns. Elrod said she felt as if Parson was only “there for lip service,” the same “lip service” she felt was present during Brown’s recent email addressing the student body.  

Elrod later worked with the GSGA to form a statement publicly condemning App State for their “assault and gross negligence against this community.”

Elrod later encouraged students to take action during her speech by calling the chancellor’s office and the UNC Board of Governors and voicing their concerns.

“Staff and faculty, unfortunately, are at-will employees and can be fired without cause as we’ve obviously seen. So I can’t, in good conscience, ask y’all to lose your financial security, but I can ask for your support.”

Elrod finished her speech by telling the audience she believes they can work together to overcome the hardships they are currently experiencing.

“I know what kind of power we can have as a community. I’ve seen progressive change happen in small Appalachian towns, even smaller than Boone,” she said. “I’ve seen the promise of a new tomorrow in the eyes of our queer youth and I know that throughout all this darkness, all this consuming fire of hatred and prejudice, we shall overcome.”

A student holds a brightly-colored poster expressing frustration at Chancellor Sheri Everts during the Save Our Voice Rally on March 3. (Ella Adams)

Elrod then played the song “We Shall Overcome,” asking attendees of the protest to join in and sing along.

The microphone was then passed to Clayton, who shared her perspective.

“I’m going to try to be loud, because while Chancellor Everts is not here, her office is right down there, so I’m hoping that if we are loud enough, she might be able to hear y’all,” Clayton said.

Clayton started a chant with the crowd, yelling, “When our rights are under attack,” encouraging the audience to respond with “we stand up and fight back.”

Clayton, an App State alum, was student body president in 2018, and said what is happening right now with administration is not new.

“The UNC system overall is under attack right now. And it’s under attack from folks that want to weaponize public education against people in this state at this moment in time,” she said. “What we’re seeing in Florida and places like Idaho and Texas right now, it’s coming here, and whether or not people choose to believe it, you all are experiencing it right now on this campus, right?”

Clayton said what the administration and those in governmental positions are afraid of is student activism and students raising their voices.

She thanked the protesters for pulling her back to campus over the issues.

“Thank you for pulling me back to a place that honestly I left running from because it made me feel voiceless and like I didn’t matter and like my voice was something to be trampled over, rather than something that should be uplifted every day,” she said.

She suggested the protesters attend Board of Trustees meetings, travel to Chapel Hill for Board of Governors meetings and travel to Raleigh to speak with legislators.

“Take that charge, take that fight, Appalachian. Because every single one of your voices matter so much,” Clayton said.

A TikTok video of Clayton’s speech posted by @locolobo was shared across the platform, gaining many views and reactions. 

Next, Missy V Sour with the Haus of Liqueur spoke.

“Expression is absolutely necessary for the human being to stay alive. It’s the only way that we leave our mark on this world,” Missy V Sour said. “And so the fact that we have an institution that’s pandering to a conservative audience, really, in the name of, what, a better football stadium?”

Missy V Sour challenged students to take up the space that drag artists do and advocate for the cause.

“Sheri baby, queerness is on this campus, baby. It’s not going nowhere,” Missy V Sour said.

Massey spoke next and encouraged attendees to vote and said if he is elected, he will work to rescind all legislation that restricts reproductive, voting, gay and free speech rights.

Izzy Stoneback, a senior studio art major, said she and other art students want answers and a safe working environment.

“We are demanding public acknowledgment of your gross negligence for the students and faculty of the Appalachian State art department,” Stoneback said. “We are requesting a response by 5 p.m. on April 5, 2024. And if those requests are outside of this administration’s abilities, we call for a reevaluation of their professional capacities, or alternatively, their official resignation.”

Benadryl of Boone Barbies also spoke and said queer people on campus deserve to be heard and valued.

Yordy wrapped up the speech portion of the protest around 1 p.m., emphasizing that students are asking for safe working conditions, the continuation of already-existing programs of App State and the chancellor’s reaffirmation to diversity and inclusion.

After the speeches, Yordy and other volunteers stayed to assist students with voter registration and voting-related inquiries. 

In an interview following the protest, Yordy said he and the App State College Democrats began collecting information and collaborating with others to organize the protest.

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About the Contributors
Madalyn Edwards
Madalyn Edwards, Associate News Editor
Madalyn Edwards (she/her) is a junior English major from Mount Airy, NC. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
Pruett Norris
Pruett Norris, Multimedia Editor
Pruett Norris (he/him) is a senior double majoring in English with a concentration in Film Studies and Electronic Media/Broadcasting. This is his second year with The Appalachian.
Ella Adams
Ella Adams, Managing Editor
Ella Adams (she/her) is a senior anthropology major.
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