Andrea Liu ’23 (she/her), staff writer
In July, Alex Suarez ‘21 published a perspective in The Davidsonian about his experience with Patterson Court and a proposal for what he would like to see on the Court. The link was shared all around Instagram on people’s stories and highlighted what Suarez detailed: the idea to make Patterson Court more accessible to affinity groups that haven’t been able to access it in the same way as white students at Davidson.
The response to his piece drove Suarez to start the Monuments Initiative, which asks the Davidson community to reconsider space and resource allocation on campus. Suarez pointed out that “the things that we give more space and resources to are going to have more presence on our campus and define the student experience at Davidson.”
The Initiative is starting with a part of student life on campus difficult to ignore: Patterson Court. In his four years at Davidson, Suarez “always felt like Patterson Court was a social space, but there were only certain groups that were really represented.” The Court houses five fraternities and four eating houses, all predominantly white, with a single house dedicated to the Black Student Coalition. The Monuments Initiative, Suarez furthers, “advocates to make more space for student organizations that have very limited space [on campus],” including PASA (Pan-Asian Student Association), OLAS (Organization of Latinx American Students), and DASA (Davidson African Student Association), among others.
When Suarez returned to campus at the beginning of his senior year, he and other students got to work creating the Initiative. Structuring the organization and developing its mission statement came gradually throughout the fall semester and proved to be a challenge. With everything virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Initiative found that communicating their mission and garnering student engagement was different and strange: “It was really hard to get Monuments Initiative materials out there and accessible to all the students at Davidson,” said Suarez.
In fact, the Initiative originally was going to be a student advocacy group separate from the college. Suarez and the Initiative’s developing E-board reversed that decision after realizing that a student group not associated with the college “wasn’t going to be as solid of an organization, and it was going to be perceived as less accessible by the student body,” Suarez explained. Accessibility is crucial to the Monuments Initiative’s success, so this semester, the Initiative has become an official student organization that anyone can join.
Suarez emphasized that he “sees the Monument Initiative as a platform for people to talk about what they want out of Patterson Court and their experiences on Patterson Court and take the stage in the same way that [he] did in [his] Perspectives piece.”
The Initiative is currently in what Suarez terms Part I, which aims to promote dialogues about student perspectives about space allocation on campus. The Initiative hopes to connect the student body together through shared experiences. They are speaking with current students and alumni, as well as doing archival work to connect the alumni experiences with those of current students. Following these conversations and data gathering, the Initiative hopes to take these conversations and discussions in tandem with information from Beyond the Frats and Disorienting Davidson to Part II, mobilizing and actualizing change on Davidson’s campus.
In alignment with these ideas, the Initiative has recently introduced a video series on their Instagram (@davidson_monuments). Suarez explained that the series was started “to get other voices on what students think about Patterson Court and how they’ve navigated it in the past.” The video series is providing a stage for students to share their perspectives and experiences.
Through the videos, students are sharing stories of their time at Davidson as they navigate friend groups, student organizations, and social life. Suarez hopes that everybody on campus watches the videos: “It’s easy to be disconnected from the experiences of other students and not necessarily understand where they’re coming from.” Through the videos and shared experiences, the Initiative hopes that people gain awareness of experiences that they’ve never personally seen and acknowledge another’s point of view.
The Monuments Initiative recently announced its general body, which consists of any student interested in sharing their thoughts and having a voice to tell their story. These general body members will be able to have a voice in directing the Initiative’s next moves. In the first general body meeting on April 2nd, students interested in joining the Monuments Initiative were introduced to E-board members, the Initiative’s mission statement, and purpose.
Motivated by her stance on the importance of space allocation to affinity groups and students not currently represented on the Court, Christine Ahn ‘23 attended the meeting and joined the Monuments Initiative as a general body member. “I really like the idea of shifting the idea that Greek life and frats/eating houses have to dominate Patterson Court: it’s an open space that exists for students. Maybe historically it existed for the privileged majority, but Davidson can really change if they physically take actions that provide spaces for other students on campus.” She furthered that “as the population of students of color increases, [it’s] natural and necessary that [there are] spaces for students to come back to their community and connect with other students of color.”
Suarez explained that the requirements for being a general body member “are really loose because everyone should have a voice in what the Monuments Initiative is doing; we’re tackling issues that are going to affect all students. It’s really just to get more voices in the room.” As the Monuments Initiative tackles more space and resource allocation on campus, they want to be sure that all students have a voice that can be shared, and anyone can provide input to how the Initiative is moving forward: who to reach out to, how to make change on campus, etc. Important updates are reported at general body meetings — the first general meeting discussed the disbandment of Kappa Alpha Order in addition to the logistics of being a part of the general body. Suarez emphasized that “if people want to get really active within the initiative, [E-board] is [an] avenue to do that. If they want much less commitment, there are ways to do that too,” primarily as a general body member.
As the organization currently takes on space allocation on Patterson Court, the goal is to change the way that the Court functions as a social space and the ways that students navigate it. The Monuments Initiative hopes to bring students together to think about potential for the houses on the Court and create a plan that will allow students to make use of the space better. Suarez stressed that “everybody has a voice in creating that plan. It’s no specific person that’s controlling how that works.”
The organization will see their Patterson Court initiative to its end, but the students involved hope to move towards discussion of other issues on campus, like funding in academic departments and other space and resource allocation disparities on campus.
Looking forward, the Monuments Initiative hopes to draw continued interest and further student engagement from the campus: student organizations across the board have suffered in that respect this year. To really make change and for the Initiative to work, Suarez emphasized, “we need student voices from throughout the campus.”
Ahn stressed that: “if the school collectively agrees that spaces should be [accessible] for more people then we’ll be able to get places. I hope to see more public interest grow on this campus, and I hope that they consider this as a student rally, something they can’t just push aside.”
For anyone who wants to get involved, E-board nominations and elections will be underway soon. As Suarez stated, “anyone can be a part of the Monuments Initiative, it’s just about conveying interest. There’s no barriers to entry.”
As the Monuments Initiative grows on campus and begins to make changes to space and resource allocation on Davidson’s campus, Ahn expressed, “I really want our voices to be heard. This isn’t just for me when I’m at Davidson, it’s the future of other underrepresented minority students on campus, or the future of students of color at Davidson so that they feel more welcome and like they have a space here.”