First ever ‘HBCU straw poll’ lets South Carolina students be heard

President Roslyn Clark Artis with students after Sunday’s events. Photo by Bleu Bell

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center cohosted a three-day criminal justice reform forum with Benedict College this past weekend. While very few students were able to attend President Donald Trump’s remarks on Friday, the rest of the events were open to the public.

Seven of the 10 Burroughs scholars who were invited to Friday’s Trump visit and “The Conservative Case for Criminal Justice Reform” were in attendance. The audience was about 25 percent students, according to Benedict College President Roslyn Clark Artis.

That afternoon, students from the eight HBCUs in South Carolina were invited to attend an early screening of “Just Mercy,” the film adaptation of Bryan Stevenson’s book featuring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx.

“The screening of ‘Just Mercy’ was phenomenal. To the account that it showed many of the injustices that continue to happen today with reference to what happened in the past has ignited a fire in me,” said Benedict College senior class president Elijah Alexander.

Thursday began with a performance from the Benedict College Marching Tiger “Band of Distinction” and a Greek step show.

Benedict College Marching Tigers welcome guests with a performance. Photo By Bleu Bell

Friday morning, an hour-long church service was held at Antisdel Chapel before the Democratic candidate symposium continued.

“This weekend has been very eye-opening. The [Democratic] candidates have been very open to listening to our concerns,” said Aaron Thomas.

Thomas is a Bernie Sanders supporter but said he was open to shifting his support depending on what the candidates had to say.

Voting for the straw poll is open only to HBCU students in South Carolina, which includes Benedict College, Allen University, Claflin University, Clinton College, Denmark Technical College, Morris College, South Carolina State University and Vorhees College.

The straw poll winner was originally supposed to be announced at the end the forum on Sunday but voting was extended to Nov. 11. Recordings of the candidates’ speeches as well as platform points will be made available online for students to review.

The straw poll will function like a primary, meaning President Trump will not be included. This is also partially because a significant number of students did not have access to his symposium and to mirror the Republican Party’s decision to not hold a primary in South Carolina this election cycle.

“Overall, this weekend has been quite a turbulent one. Had this event been held to a much larger audience that included more students instead of keeping them inside, I would have attended for the physical interaction and to hear and see the president speak,” said Alexander.

An award will be given to the winner of the straw poll which will be posted on the 20/20 Bipartisan Justice Center’s site.