A few hundred students, dressed mostly in black, stood by the Van Wickle Gates at noon today to take a photo to show solidarity and support for Black students at the University of Missouri. Attendees remained huddled, some under umbrellas, to listen as several Black students, one by one, took to a megaphone to share their stories. They spoke about the institutional racism they had personally experienced, about the University’s refusal to value their existence and acknowledge their identities, and called for institutional changes to prevent future traumas and actualize equality on campus.
Many students spoke about their own experiences with racism in the classroom. A first-year spoke about being in an MCM class in which the professor, after quoting a text, repeatedly used the n-word to refer to Black bodies. “It happened five times before I had to walk out,” he said. After tweeting about the incident, the student has met several times with school administrators, and said his professor sent out an email acknowledging her use of language. “But it wasn’t an apology. It was an excuse.”
Another student expressed frustration with having to continually meet with administrators about the perpetuation of institutional racism by faculty members. “I’m here because I’m tired,” they said. “I haven’t done schoolwork in months, but I’m meeting with administrators.” Others elaborated on the discomfort that many Black students feel in classrooms with professors that have made racially charged comments or have criticized the work of activists on campus. “Ken Miller, David Josephson, Ariella Azoulay, Glenn Loury — these people aren’t being punished, but we are.”
In reference to the email sent by President Christina Paxson P’19 and Richard Locke, one student asked, “Why did they all of the sudden send out that e-mail after Mizzou and Yale?” The letter, titled “Promoting a Diverse, Inclusive Academic Community,” was sent this Tuesday to the community. “Are they scared [of losing their jobs]?” the student continued. “They should be. I’m very tired of institutional racism. If it doesn’t stop, if free speech isn’t removed from this discussion, she should be afraid.” Another student added, “I just want to say that our humanity is not up for debate.” One speaker pointed out that it took a year for the University to put a “Do not touch” sign in front of the only slavery memorial on campus, although “white children played on it the day after it was put up.”
Another student addressed her words towards University Hall, questioning the people in power who were watching the demonstration but did not join the students.“President Paxson are you here? Richard Locke are you here?” Locke was in attendance and yelled “I’m here!” from the audience, though few heard him. Towards the end of the event, another student called out administrators that were whispering in the back of the demonstration. “Y’all are back there whispering, ‘well we are here?!’ — see you’re not listening, you need to be quiet and listen to what we’re saying, y’all need to stop making it about yourselves.”
Students voiced their frustration with being told to simply not attend institutions they found racist. One student speaker said, “How dare you tell me if I don’t like this campus, if I think it’s racist, I should leave, when my ancestors literally built the ground we walk on?” Another speaker began to cry as she explained, “It’s horrible when I talk to my mom and she can’t just ask, ‘How are your grades?’ She asks, ‘Are the white kids being nice to you?’”
A Residential Peer Leader discussed a recent incident in which students entered her dorm and wrote “ni***r” in Sharpie on a wall. After sharing details with her friends, it became apparent that multiple other RPLs of color had experienced vandalism in their dorms, often involving the same racial epithet, smeared with the contents of ketchup packets.
As the Blackout came to an end, student leaders encouraged those in attendance to march to the Main Green where graduate students in the Africana Studies department held a teach-in.
Perched on the steps of Faunce, several graduate students gave prepared statements to the large crowd through a megaphone. They began by “commending the undergraduate students who spoke at the rally. It was amazing.”
To preface a number of speeches on various topics concerning anti-blackness and issues that affect students of color, the first speaker read a list of demands for the administration: that the university hire and retain faculty of color in larger numbers; that departments with racist hiring policies and histories be held accountable; that there be compulsory training — organized and held by compensated students and faculty of color — for all faculty on critical race theory; and, finally, that Title IX training be held within an intersectional framework, acknowledging the statistically much higher risk of sexual assault for women of color and trans people.
It was also mentioned that increased funding for Africana Studies was notably left out of the new University Growth plan. One graduate student expanded on the empty meaning of university language like “diversity,” saying that until the administration shares the data with the student body and embraces transparency, emailed statistics on “diversity” are essentially meaningless.
Other speeches, such as a brief history of #BlackLivesMatter, focused on more generalized structural racism and inequality that exist throughout the nation. These words fed into a theme prevalent throughout the teach-in: the debates over race and oppression at Brown and at universities across the nation are merely microcosms of a much broader power imbalance.
One grad student began her statement by quoting W. E. B. Dubois’ explanation of the underlying question always posed to African-Americans:
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it. All, nevertheless, flutter round it. They approach me in a half- hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town… To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.
And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,–peculiar even for one who has never been anything else.
As the teach-in began to wrap up, the organizers and speakers took turns invoking an intersectional array of ancestors from the civil rights movement — Audre Lorde, Stokely Carmichael, and victims of police violence such as Sandra Bland and Michael Brown.
The protest concluded with a final rallying cry of “Black Lives Matter,” loud enough to be heard from inside Faunce, and perhaps even University Hall.
Photos via Danielle Perelman ’17.