Senior NC State communication major Melanie Flowers took her post as incoming student body president this summer amid a worldwide pandemic and protests against persistent social injustice across the country. She shares her advice and hopeful outlook on the future in this Q&A as students, faculty and alumni try to navigate this troubled time.
Congratulations on your new role. What’s your top priority to handle first?
Especially with such challenging circumstances arising, I’m really humbled to be a leader, and I take the responsibility very seriously. I don’t see COVID-19 and racial injustice as separate issues. They intersect and to look at them as circumstances that aren’t interdependent would be a big misstep in addressing them. Black, Indigenous, and people of color as well as the LGBTQ+ communities are already vulnerable to health concerns let alone a global pandemic. Large gatherings are a risk with COVID-19, yet it’s necessary for the protection of Black communities. We must mobilize and protest to speak out against the wrongful and heartbreaking murders of Black people by racist officers and systemic racism.
How do you think students have reacted to the changes required by the COVID crisis and quarantine?
I think students have reacted in a variety of ways with a variety of emotions. I receive student concerns and feedback across the board. Some students are completely comfortable with the changes on campus and others are expecting to return to a campus community that looks the same as Spring 2020 before the unexpected close. Personally, I only spend time with people who are in my family unit or who I consider as a part of my social pod or bubble like people from Student Government.
Do you think it’s a good idea for students to be attending class?
I think NC State’s reactivation plans are prioritizing the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and surrounding community members. The University has made the difficult and necessary decision to move a lot of classes online in order to prioritize space for larger classes that have moved to the larger spaces on campus, such as the ballrooms in Talley and our auditorium spaces.
Specifically to the Black Lives Matter movement, do you think our student body is getting involved enough?
I’ve been pleased to see a lot of students participate in the movement, which reaffirms my confidence in our ability to reform NC State’s community into a space that celebrates Blackness. The Coalition of Black Students, which is made up of student leaders from Black organizations, has done a lot of great advocacy and put forth two petitions that students and faculty can sign. These are: The Petition for the Advancement and Support of Black Life on Campus: https://www.thenubianmessage.com/2020/06/12/petition-for-the-advancement-and-support-of-black-life-of-campus/ and The Petition for Change in Policing at NC State: https://www.thenubianmessage.com/2020/06/09/petition-for-change-in-policing-at-nc-state/
What’s your hope for the future and how can our department and university help promote more change?
In the future, I hope to visit NC State as an alumna and feel a shift in what it means to be a Black student on campus. NC State’s different departments and programs have done a decent job of communicating the resources available for students to educate themselves on the Black community and on opportunities to engage in the movement. I think it’s important that this content continues throughout the year and not just in moments where it feels “palatable” for the University to talk about the Black community.
Are there ideas you’ve learned as a communication major to help you succeed in your new role?
As communication professionals, we should work really hard to create a true mirror to what’s going on in the world. It’s really important to me that Student Government’s communication is open, consistent, and digestible to the common student because that’s who we’re advocating for. There are a lot of barriers to government; but, while students are at NC State, I want them to have a general grasp of how we can amplify their voice. Last fall, I took a class about crisis communication with Dr. Larson and learned a lot about how to appropriately communicate during a crisis. I’m putting those takeaways — like maintaining consistent, open, and honest communication — to use on a daily basis with COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement..
What advice can you give to the student body as we prepare for fall semester with so much unrest?
I try to make the commitment to myself to schedule one or two things each week that allow me to have the space to relax and potentially unplug. Even if it’s just micro moments of pause like spending time with a friend or watching a show or movie like I did recently with the release of Hamilton, I’ve found that building in time to do something that you will enjoy relieves some tension. Identify opportunities for joy and then create the time for those moments.