On Monday afternoon, a student-led demonstration took place in the Cistern Yard to protest the end of the ROAR Scholars program. Since 2010, ROAR Scholars has been providing “academic and advising support for first generation, low income and/or disabled students.” The program also coordinates an array of support services, service-learning opportunities and cultural events. Approximately 150 students benefit from ROAR every year.
Due to the expiration of a grant, the program is slated for disbandment after this year. Program Director Tom Holcomb explained in a letter in September that ROAR’s federal TRIO grant was not renewed by the Department of Education. He explained that for the 2015-2016 school year, he would be the sole staff member of the program. Many students and staff involved with the program have complained about the lack of information and transparency from the McConnell administration. Ideally, the demonstrators would like the College to step in with funding to continue the program, despite the loss of the grant.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Marla Robertson, an alumna of the College, currently works for the Division of Business Affairs and advises the Black Student Union. She explained that the demonstrators wanted to “bring visibility to the decommissioning of the ROAR office.” Robertson also pointed out the confusion surrounding the issue, and lack of communication. “We will lose the only office of its kind that’s able to issue scholarship opportunities to currently enrolled students that fit into that minority category,” Robertson said. She praised the individualized approach that ROAR takes with each of its students.
Robertson and others have pointed out the disparity between the College’s goals regarding diversity and their dismissal of a program that is “integral and essential” to minority and low-income students. At a time when the College promises to admit more students from local and Lowcountry high schools and makes serious changes to the diversity of the student body, many are questioning the administration’s seriousness. “If we bring them here but we have…no infrastructure to support them,” Robertson said, “then we will bring them in but we will not be able to retain [them].”
Speaking to the crowd, Robertson characterized ROAR not just as a resource, but a home. “You know that’s a place you can go and feel understood, and we don’t have a lot of places like this on campus.” She urged students to “make [their] voices heard.”
Alexis Walters, a senior who was recently featured in ROAR’s “Student Success Stories” newsletter, spoke about the invisibility minority students experience in many aspects of campus life. “We pay our money to come here…this is supposed to be a home for us, yet we’re excluded from a lot of different things socially, academically, financially; we’re just kind of pushed aside.” Walters said she and many other students are tired of not mattering to the administration of the College. “We are important. We matter.”
Jakarri Godbolt, a junior, echoed Walters’ statements. He said that Tom Holcomb, Director of ROAR Scholars, “was the first person to actually show me that other people outside your race can care about you.” Another student spoke of how critical ROAR is to the everyday life of low-income students. They provided him with assistance to purchase books and sign up for a meal plan. “I want to be an anesthesiologist,” he explained. “I need to know how to write resumes, how to talk to people.” Different workshops that ROAR provided have filled those knowledge gaps, teaching “little things that we take for granted that move us farther along in life.”
Donovan Taylor, a junior, expressed his frustration with the disparity between the discourse around diversity and the reality on campus. “I’m frustrated with how much we’re told diversity matters on this campus,” he said, but “the actions of the administration here do not reflect that mission.” Princess Hollis, a sophomore, agreed. She decried the end of “one of the few retention programs we have,” stressing that the students ROAR serves are not “just some passing statistic.”
Why Does ROAR Matter?
Julian Harrell, a junior, gave a perfect summary of ROAR’s significance to students at the College of Charleston. “There were plenty of summers where I didn’t have the funding to even survive, to sustain myself through the summer while taking courses here,” Harrell recalled. “It was ROAR who got me on my feet and got me in the direction I needed to go.”
Thanks to the scholarships and support he receives through ROAR, Harrell says he can “go out and be fully engaged in my classes regardless of what I’m going through at the time, at a mental level, at a financial level.”
He, like so many others, expressed frustration at the administration’s apparent lack of interest in the program and its future. “They never come to the office and I think that’s a travesty,” said Harrell. “You have a person’s employment in limbo because you’re too afraid to tell them yes or no.” CisternYard approached Tom Holcomb for comment but he declined.
With clear emotion, Harrell ended his remarks with words that echoed from every one of the demonstrators: “Thank you, Tom. Thank you ROAR.”