About 100 students at Salem College conducted a sit-in protest Monday on campus, saying the school fosters a culture of racism, sexism and elitism.

The students demanded that college officials take action to address their concerns, which were detailed in a 10-page call to action.

The document calls for the school’s board of trustees, administrators, faculty members and staff to complete at least 16 hours of diversity training before the college’s first day of classes in late August.

“You’ve had your chance to ignore this, but now it’s in your face,” the document says. “’Pay attention. It’s past time you take steps to implement the rights, policies and demands necessary to alleviate the inequity and discrimination that permeate every facet of Salem College.”

The protest started at 11:15 a.m. when several students stated their grievances about the college in their classes, walked out and headed to Main Hall on campus, said Purva Trivedi, a Salem senior majoring in biochemistry. They then sat in the hallways on the first floor, near the offices of several administrators.

The students planned to remain in the building for most of Monday.

“We are not interested in talking any more,” Trivedi said. “We want some action.”

Later on Monday, Ed Jones, a spokesman for Salem College, issued a statement in response to the protest.

“Earlier today, a group of students presented members of the administration with a 10-page call to action, which we are reviewing,” the statement said. “We offered to meet with the students to discuss the contents of the document.

“They have advised us that they prefer to continue their sit-it until action is taken,” the statement said. “We respect their rights to express themselves in a peaceful manner.”

President Lorraine Sterritt and Susan Calovini, Salem’s vice president and dean of the college, sent emails Monday to other students, faculty and staff about the demonstration.

“We care deeply about our students, and we acknowledge the importance of the concerns that they have raised,” Sterritt and Calovini said in their email. “We commit to working with students, faculty, staff, administration and the boards in order to respond to the call to action.”

Sterritt and other Salem administrators talked with the protesters inside of Main Hall throughout Monday, student organizers said.

Salem College was founded in 1772 and has an enrollment of about 1,100 students. College statistics show that in the fall of 2015, 51 percent of its students were white, 20 percent were black and 15 percent were Hispanic. The remaining 14 percent include Asian Americans, students who identify with two or more races, American Indians and Alaska natives.

The student protest at Salem comes on the heels of nationwide student protests against Donald Trump’s election and presidency, against speaking invitations to conservatives and against discrimination and a culture of sexual assaults at some universities.

At Salem College, Alex Harris said he and other black students in a history class were offended two weeks ago when their professor used the n-word twice during the professor’s lecture about the working conditions in the U.S. during the early 20th century.

“I understand the importance of being honest about history (since) I’m a history major,” Harris said. “You have to be conscientious of the people in the classroom — your audience. And that made a lot of people uncomfortable.”

Harris declined to identify the professor.

Johnny Jones, Salem’s communications and social manager, said that no complaint was filed about the professor’s lecture, and that college officials weren’t aware of the matter.

Harris and Trivedi said that those type of incidents happen frequently on campus, with white faculty members, administrators and students saying inappropriate things to minority students.

Students who have been offended by those remarks have complained to campus administrators, but the college took no action, Trivedi said.

“We’ve been talking for the last four years, and nothing has changed,” she said. “It’s time for us to speak out.”

jhinton@wsjournal.com (336) 727-7299 @jhintonWSJ

Recommended for you

Load comments