Several hundred students, faculty members and administrators dressed in black gathered on the Quiet Green between University Hall and the Van Wickle Gates Thursday afternoon to show solidarity with the black victims of hate speech and threats of racialized violence at the University of Missouri.
Following a group photograph of the “Blackout,” students of color spoke to the surrounding crowd, amplified by a megaphone. Though the event was organized in support of students at Mizzou, grievances about Brown’s campus climate and administration comprised the majority of the remarks.
“We are here because of systemic and insidious problems of structural and institutional racism that prevail at Brown University, at Yale University, at Mizzou and at countless other institutions across the nation” said Candice Ellis ’16, addressing the crowd.
“You think Brown’s been doing a good job? Because something that happened at Mizzou or at Yale or at many of the other institutions across the nation might happen here,” said Justice Gaines ’16.
Students of color shared stories of personal experiences with racism in dorms, classrooms and other spaces on and off campus.
Many speakers expressed being tired of institutional racism, not having their voices heard and the lack of action from the administration to adequately address hurtful actions continuously borne by communities of color on campus.
While recognizing the faculty members and administrators in attendance, Jummy Akinsulire ’16, president of the Black Student Union, questioned the absence of others. “President Paxson, are you here? Provost Locke, are you here? These are the people who continually ask for black leaders and minority leaders to talk about institutional racism and to talk about how we can change these things on our campus.”
Locke, who was in attendance, tried to alert the crowd of his presence by responding, “I am here.”
Asking the crowd to note those looking down at the protest from the windows of University Hall, Akinsulire said, “Looking over us is also white supremacy. Why aren’t you down here with us? That’s another symbolism,” adding that she did not want to serve merely as “the person who just helps the school be diverse.”
Administrators “say they listen, they say they hear us, they do nothing,” Ellis said, adding in a follow-up message to The Herald that “they refuse to adequately acknowledge students of color.”
“Instead of saying structural racism, they say structural issues. They refuse to name us. This is a problem,” she said, urging students of color “to step forward and be heard.”
Langston Glaude ’18 said, “Pay attention, start listening. That’s what we’re trying to say.”
President Christina Paxson P’19 sent a campus-wide email Tuesday about the University’s efforts to promote a diverse and inclusive community. “We acknowledge the deeply troubling fact that racism, sexism and a less-than-fully welcoming climate exist on our campus,” she wrote, promising to better support students, foster discussion on diversity and inclusion, evaluate the campus climate and provide more professional development for faculty members on “pedagogical approaches that will help us reach and become more accessible” to Brown’s student body, the demographics of which have shifted significantly in the last decade.
She added that the University would provide more detail on these actions in its Diversity Action Plan, which will be released later this month.
But students at the Blackout expressed frustration with the email, saying it was prompted by fear caused by the national situation and that it fell short of what was needed.
Hannah Anokye ’16 told The Herald the administration should “stop hiding behind buzzwords like ‘diversity’ and ‘data driven.’” She added that it should utilize resources such as graduate students and trained Minority Peer Counselors. “Stop reverting to having white people explain these issues because they’re not going through these issues.”
“I charge this university and many others for being perpetrators of structural and ideological racism, sexism and other systems of oppression,” Khalif Andre ’19 wrote in an email to The Herald, clarifying a sentiment he expressed in his speech earlier in the day.
“Our humanity is not up for discussion,” he said. “If you do not take a stance for our humanity, you’re taking a stance against it. … Either you’re with us, or you’re against us.”
Godwin Tsado ’16, an organizer of the event, said he “envisioned something extremely organic, (where) people said whatever was on their mind, and that happened.” He added, “It’s obvious that people in power in the University know this is going on,” with students calling for action for years. “Why don’t they address it head on?”
After the speeches on the Quiet Green, the group marched through the drizzle to the Main Green, where graduate students, primarily in the Department of Africana Studies, held a teach-in on the steps of Faunce House. The teach-in — organized by Bedour Alagraa GS and Shamara Alhassan GS — was one of many such events happening on campuses across the nation.
The grad students read a list of demands for the administration, including that the University hire more faculty members of color, create mandatory training on critical race theory for all faculty members and adopt an intersectional framework for Title IX training. The Graduate Students of Color Collective, the Nabrit Black Graduate Student Association and Africana Studies grad students encourage members of the community to read their official statement, which includes their full list of demands.
“Practicing anti-racism should be everyone’s job, not just students of color,” Lily Mengesha GS, a speaker at the teach-in and a fourth-year graduate student in theatre arts and performance studies, told The Herald. Arguments for neutrality do not result in productive or constructive dialogue, she said, adding, “I’ve gotten used to feeling silenced by the institution.”
“I really appreciated that (organizers) allowed trans black students to speak at this event because there are so few of us on campus,” said Jackie Rice ’16, a former MPC and former head chair of the Queer Alliance. “People listened and affirmed and made a commitment to make changes on campus for people like me.”
Rice said that seeing “administrators of color and professors who have proven their support” at the Blackout “mattered a lot.”
“Saying black lives matter is saying finally all lives matter,” Stefano Bloch, postdoctoral fellow in urban studies, told The Herald. “That’s an affirmative statement that has been systematically oppressed in the history of this country.”
Bloch said he was there both as a community member committed to learning and listening and as a faculty member.
“I was surprised that not every single person affiliated with Brown — staff, student, and faculty — were there,” he said.“When members of one community have something specific to say from such a heartfelt space, it always surprises me that not everybody is there to listen to, if not support them.” Those who did show up were a “powerful representation of many of the groups from Brown,” he added.
“We all came together and mobilized, we begged this university to hold (The Herald) accountable, we begged this university to hear our stories about how racism, sexism and a whole host of other problems prevail at this university and prevent us from being safe, from being at peace, from being whole and from being well,” Ellis said in her speech.
“More than just acting in times when we have rallies and protests, my hope is that we validate each other as humans,” Anokye said. “Validating people as humans and as fellow students are the little things that you can do,” along with “talking about it with your other friends who may not understand or realize that this is a problem that affects everyone.”
“This is not a thing, when we talk about race, of pointing a finger,” Noelle Austin ’18 said to the crowd. “It’s wanting people to know that there are problems, and the problems are important to us, and they’re real to us. I ask that next time someone feels uncomfortable talking about racism, please realize we feel uncomfortable too … but we don’t get a chance to take a day off.”
Video by Kate Talerico.