NC A&T students, administration speak out against gerrymandered districts splitting their campus

ABOVE: Congressional voting maps drawn by the Republican-led NC General Assembly in 2016 split the campus of NC A&T State University into two different districts.

By Braxton Brewington
Posted: Sept. 25, 2017

GREENSBORO – It took NC A&T State University nearly 20 months to publicly address the gerrymandering that affects its campus directly, and it was only acknowledged because the students forced administration to do so. 

An anonymous letter, signed as Concerned Student 1891, was sent to the administration demanding that they address the redistricting lines drawn in 2016.  NC A&T State University is divided by Laurel Street into two separate districts – 6 and 13.  The unprecedented division has created confusion for students on campus as to what congressional district they reside in and where they need to cast their ballot. 

The statement addressed to Chancellor Harold Martin Sr. and A&T administration not only explained why the university should feel obligated to inform the students about this matter, but why they should openly oppose the division of the campus and name it as unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.

The letter quickly gained traction on various social media sites and obtained over 600 signatures in a matter of days.  The Concerned Student 1891 Twitter account updated its followers of the response from Chancellor Martin and administration, who although refusing to do a press conference, crafted a joint statement with Concerned Student 1891 and the Student Government Association on Sept. 12. 

It’s apparent it took much effort from SGA and Concerned Student 1891 to work with the administration on a response, yet many are disappointed it took the administration so long to speak up. For the largest public HBCU in the nation to remain silent while being so blatantly affected by the drawing of district lines, not to mention the suppression of students’ voting strength as a campus, is heavily concerning.

The letter also asked the university to issue a statement condemning white supremacy and the violent acts that recently occurred in Charlottesville, VA, as well as express opposition to Betsy DeVos’ decision to rescind the current sexual assault guidelines under Title IX.

As a student of NC A&T, it is obvious to me that the issues which are truly important to us have shifted.  A few days before the letter was sent to administration, Common Cause NC fellows at A&T, with the help of willing students on campus, took to the sidewalks to inform the students about the redistricting issue. The students wrote on the sidewalk (in chalk) as a way to amplify their voices, using phrases like “What district is your dorm in?” and “Don’t trip over the district line." 

As thousands of students walked around campus the next day, most heads were looking downward to read the work which was written the night before.  The overall tone of the campus has quickly shifted from hushed murmurs of weakening voting strength to full-blown acts of speaking truth to power.

The increase in on-campus events specified for political engagement coupled with the recent spark in conversation over gerrymandering on A&T’s campus definitely seems to have altered the political atmosphere.  Students are turning out in larger numbers for candidates forums and registering and pledging to vote by the dozens. 

After being a Common Cause fellow for only a few months, it has become evident of how impactful political education and civic engagement can truly be. The Common Cause fellowship has given me the opportunity to work closely with college outreach coordinators to develop goals that align with the strengths and interests of the students on my campus, while also building relationships with student leaders at HBCUs across the state.

Common Cause has swiftly instilled a sense of activism within me, and seeing the students at A&T speaking out on issues they feel strongly about restores my belief in the power we historically have shown we carry.  I feel emboldened by the work of my peers by shaping and organizing the dialogue on my campus.  When students speak up about what matters to us, we have the power to change things.

Braxton Brewington is a student at NC A&T State University in Greensboro and an HBCU Democracy Fellow with Common Cause North Carolina.



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