Black Liberation on Campus, 2015?


rsz_st-louis-brown-protestIntro­duc­tion

This round­table is apart of our evolv­ing “Move­ment Inquiry” fea­ture, which opened with an inves­ti­ga­tion of hous­ing strug­gles in the US. If you would like to get involved, email us at roundtables@viewpointmag.com.

On Feb­ru­ary 8, 1968, police opened fire on stu­dents at South Car­oli­na State Uni­ver­si­ty in the city of Orange­burg, mur­der­ing Samuel Ham­mond, Hen­ry Smith, and Delano Mid­dle­ton and injur­ing thir­ty oth­ers. Ham­mond, Smith, and Mid­dle­ton were shot in the back, and all offi­cers were acquit­ted – an echo of the racial order that the stu­dents had been protest­ing. Four years after the Civil Rights Act, pub­lic and pri­vate insti­tu­tions con­tin­ued to refuse ser­vice to Black peo­ple.

Two months lat­er, Mar­t­in Luther King, Jr., was killed, set­ting cam­pus­es and, lit­er­al­ly, neigh­bor­hoods on fire. For Black stu­dents, the “Orange­burg Mas­sacre” set the stage. Lead­ers from six­teen col­leges in North Car­oli­na met in Durham, avow­ing “cre­ative demon­stra­tions.” Greens­boro host­ed a mock funer­al, one of the largest actions in the city’s his­to­ry. Across the coun­try, stu­dents held com­mem­o­ra­tions and protests.

At the same time that it blew open Black stu­dent orga­niz­ing, Orange­burg reced­ed in pub­lic mem­o­ry. It was lost to MLK and Black Pow­er. It came after the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee and before the for­mal­iza­tion of Black fem­i­nist stud­ies. It was a flash­point for Black stu­dent pow­er, the ice­berg of what gov­ern­ment offi­cials called “cam­pus unrest.” As Martha Biondi writes in The Black Rev­o­lu­tion on Cam­pus, “the most preva­lent demand in the hun­dreds of cam­pus protests in 1968-1989 was African Amer­i­can inclu­sion, not oppo­si­tion to the Viet­nam War. The cen­tral­i­ty of race… has been for­got­ten.”

The recent, high-pro­file mur­der of Black peo­ple – and the fail­ure to pros­e­cute white vig­i­lantes and police offi­cers – has, sim­i­lar­ly, pro­pelled cam­pus activism across the coun­try. Stu­dents have rushed to express not only their out­rage at the wan­ton loss of life, but also their col­lec­tive dis­il­lu­sion­ment with a sys­tem indif­fer­ent to the con­cerns of stu­dents of col­or from Berke­ley High School to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri to Yale. In doing so, they have dis­rupt­ed the flow of Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion and con­test­ed the mean­ing of stu­dent­hood.

As the con­trib­u­tors’ essays in this series illus­trate, the­se inter­ven­tions have tak­en myr­i­ad forms – from peren­ni­al die-ins and walk­outs to a cam­paign for a Lev­el 1 Trau­ma Cen­ter. Still, what many share is a rejec­tion of the mythos of “Black pro­gress.” What they embrace, in turn, is that the endur­ing con­di­tion of Blacks in the Unit­ed States is one of strug­gle, neces­si­tat­ing agi­ta­tion for the re-imag­i­na­tion of equi­ty in an equal­ly endur­ing white-suprema­cist order.

It is with this under­stand­ing that Samuel Northup could be born a free man in 1808 and enslaved in 1849, that the Vot­ing Rights Act could pass in 1965 only to be gut­ted in 2013, and that calls by Black youth for Pales­tini­an sol­i­dar­i­ty and again­st U.S. impe­ri­al­ism remain to be acknowl­edged a gen­er­a­tion lat­er.

In this series, it is with a sim­i­lar under­stand­ing that stu­dents at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan have cam­paigned over the span of over forty years to increase Black stu­dent rep­re­sen­ta­tion, only to see their num­bers drop from 9% in 1996 to 6.8% in 2007 to just under 5% since 2010. Like­wise, though the Civil War end­ed in 1865, stu­dents at Mid­dle Ten­nessee State Uni­ver­si­ty must con­tin­ue fight­ing to remove mon­u­ments to the Con­fed­er­a­cy. This under­stand­ing frames the open­ing of the Africa Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia in 1993 and its clo­sure one gen­er­a­tion lat­er. South Car­oli­na State is itself fac­ing finan­cial straits and threat­ened clo­sure, reflect­ing the under-resourcing of His­tor­i­cal­ly Black Col­leges and Uni­ver­si­ties nation­wide.  

The expe­ri­ences and strug­gles of the present moment under­pin the title of this round­table, “Black Lib­er­a­tion on Cam­pus, 2015?” This frame posits an active strug­gle, con­stant­ly remak­ing itself from one nation­al groundswell to the next – and from long-gone, if long-lost, designs. Where do we go from here? While his­to­ry is quick to cite Huey P. New­ton and Stoke­ly Carmichael, the per­son­ae and words of Ange­la Davis, Assa­ta Shakur, and Audre Lorde loom large in the­se essays and in youth orga­niz­ing nation­wide. What does a Black lib­er­a­tion move­ment that cen­ters the death and life of wom­en and girls, from Aiyana Stan­ley Jones to Rekia Boyd to Miri­am Carey, look like? What will it take to advance move­ments free from patri­archy, gen­der con­for­mi­ty, het­ero­sex­ism, and ableism? More­over, many of the strug­gles in this series began in city streets before radi­at­ing across cam­pus­es. What is lib­er­a­tion with­in and beyond the rel­a­tive priv­i­lege of uni­ver­si­ty spaces? How can the strug­gles of stu­dents res­onate with the neigh­bor­hoods and work­places of those who’ve nev­er been enrolled? By lever­ag­ing stu­dent­hood, what can the­se writ­ers teach us about nation­al and, may­be, transna­tion­al strug­gle?

View­point envi­sions this round­table as a begin­ning, not an end. We wel­come your ideas, feed­back, cri­tiques, as well as your sup­port in shar­ing this resource with friends and neigh­bors, in dor­mi­to­ries and class­rooms, at ral­lies and direct actions. We are eager to work with orga­niz­ers to col­lec­tive­ly cre­ate future round­ta­bles on the strug­gles unfold­ing today – Black and Brown lib­er­a­tion, cli­mate change, edu­ca­tion, fem­i­nism, queer pow­er, youth-led migrant strug­gles, and in trans­porta­tion, logis­tics, and the work­places of retail and ser­vice work­ers, to name just a few. To get involved, please email us at roundtables@viewpointmag.com.


#WALKOUTWEDNESDAY, Berke­ley High School

By Kadi­jah Means
11.10.protest.VIGNET2 2“The turnout for the­se actions gave my com­rades and me some­thing we had not had for months – hope, mov­ing us to orga­nize some­thing big­ger. Des­per­ate for a taste of vic­to­ry, in a war that is seem­ing­ly nev­er-end­ing, Damani McNeil, Lucy Rosen­thal, Finn Col­lom, and I orga­nized a 1,500 per­son strong walk­out, ral­ly, and die-in on Wednes­day, Decem­ber 10, 2014 – #Walk­outWednes­day.”

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Like many of my peers, I’ve increas­ing­ly found myself dis­tressed by reports about the loss of Black lives at the hands of the police. I was fur­ther trou­bled to see that the nation­al atten­tion the anti-police ter­ror move­ment deserved was only gar­nered after the loss of young Black life. Sad­ly, given our nation’s his­to­ry, it was unsur­pris­ing. As a young Black wom­an, I have come to terms with a painful real­i­ty: Racism is not dying any time soon.

Know­ing this, I felt moti­vat­ed to act. As pres­i­dent of my high school’s Amnesty Inter­na­tion­al club and Pharaoh of the Black Stu­dent Union, I saw the over­lap in the­se groups’ goals and thought it fit­ting to merge the­se orga­ni­za­tions in the fight to reaf­firm Black human­i­ty. The result­ing coali­tion of about twen­ty stu­dents nev­er had a com­bined meet­ing. We worked through email to divide tasks: social media, ban­ners, posters, and meet­ings with the fac­ul­ty. I served as a liaison between the groups.

We were strate­gic in plan­ning each direct act of resis­tance. We timed ral­lies, moments of silence, and oth­er move­ments for max­i­mum atten­dance. Though Amnesty had pre­vi­ous­ly held an anti-police bru­tal­i­ty ral­ly in Sep­tem­ber of 2014, things real­ly heat­ed up fol­low­ing the non-indict­ment of Dar­ren Wilson. There was out­rage across the nation. Inspired by Fem­i­nista Jones’ Nation­al Moment of Silence and the man­ner in which our school unites to mourn tragedies, we arranged a week­long, after-school 4.5-minute moment of silence to reflect on the 4.5 hours Mike Brown’s slain body lay on the ground after he was killed.

The sub­se­quent non-indict­ment of Eric Garner’s mur­der­er Daniel Pan­ta­leo, while dis­ap­point­ing, was not sur­pris­ing, and we were forced to arrange anoth­er school-wide 4.5-minute moment of silence, fol­lowed by chant­i­ng “I can’t breathe.” The turnout for the­se actions gave my com­rades and me some­thing we had not had for months, hope, mov­ing us to orga­nize some­thing big­ger. Des­per­ate for a taste of vic­to­ry, in a war that is seem­ing­ly nev­er-end­ing, Damani McNeil, Lucy Rosen­thal, Finn Col­lom, and I orga­nized a 1,500 per­son strong walk­out, ral­ly, and die-in on Wednes­day Decem­ber 10th 2015#Walk­outWednes­day.

Fac­ul­ty were instruct­ed not to attend by the Inter­im Prin­ci­pal, but the Super­in­ten­dent and for­mer Berke­ley High Prin­ci­pal, now Assis­tant Super­in­ten­dent, were in atten­dance. The walk­out began on the steps of Berkeley’s city hall. While the pro­gram was care­ful­ly planned, impromp­tu speech­es by audi­ence mem­bers were encour­aged.

While there, I gave a speech explain­ing why as high school stu­dents we were oblig­at­ed to take a stand, espe­cial­ly if we want­ed to con­sid­er our­selves egal­i­tar­i­an. I detailed the mur­der of Eric Gar­ner in order to explain that body cam­eras aren’t the solu­tion. After what felt like a col­lec­tive deep breath we chant­ed “Black Lives Mat­ter,”  and con­tin­ued through the speech­es.

We marched through Down­town Berke­ley to Sproul Hall for a brief stop, and chant­ed “You’re the ones who showed us how; UC Berke­ley join us now!” The march con­tin­ued to the Cam­panile, where the final stage of the action, the die-in, took place.

#Walk­outWednes­day gained a great deal of atten­tion. Yet, while I’d rather be writ­ing about a suc­cess­ful rev­o­lu­tion due to valiant local activism, I am here to report more unnec­es­sary vio­lence again­st Black peo­ple. In August of this year, there were some six police shoot­ings in Oak­land. In the mon­th of Sep­tem­ber alone, there were 2 shoot­ings by Bay Area Rapid Tran­sit police. The mil­i­ta­riza­tion of police in this city is dis­turbing, but unsur­pris­ing, con­sid­er­ing the police tanks that roam the yet-to-be gen­tri­fied streets of deep East Oak­land.

When asked why I orga­nize, I must note that there is always room for improve­ment in a coun­try built on injus­tice. The Unit­ed States has an unset­tling habit of putting a band-aid over gap­ing wounds and ignor­ing them. The­se wounds go untreat­ed until they get infect­ed, or until an activist dous­es them in rub­bing alco­hol – a nec­es­sary, though painful exer­cise.

This exer­cise also pains the activist. In orga­niz­ing, what tests my strength the most is the moments direct­ly after an action. The sense of pride you feel when you accom­plish some­thing as an orga­niz­er – whether it’s “start­ing the con­ver­sa­tion about race” or fundrais­ing – is often fol­lowed by the crush­ing real­iza­tion that your work may nev­er be com­plete. Some­times the real­iza­tion comes in the form of com­ments on arti­cles about your action, or peo­ple ques­tion­ing your intel­li­gence after a com­ment you make on a pan­el.

My moment of real­iza­tion came after the walk­out, as I was strolling down the street, bull­horn in hand. A home­less white man, who I assume wit­nessed the walk­out, ques­tioned my rea­son­ing for this action, say­ing some­thing along the lines of “We all bleed red, why are you wast­ing your time when peo­ple are starv­ing.” I almost explained myself to him, but some­thing stopped me. May­be it was because I was hold­ing back tears. My work may nev­er be done.

It’s this cycle of win­ning the bat­tle (suc­cess­ful action) and los­ing the war (anti-Black­ness and white suprema­cy con­tin­ue to thrive) that takes the great­est emo­tion­al toll on me. I feel over­whelmed by the exis­tence of anti-Black­ness and at times hope­less in the face of the pos­si­bil­i­ty that, no mat­ter my effort, my descen­dants will endure some form of this hate.

Kadi­jah Means was born and raised in Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia. She cur­rent­ly attends UC San­ta Cruz, pur­su­ing a degree in both Pol­i­tics and Crit­i­cal Race and Eth­nic Stud­ies (CRES), and was the 2015 recip­i­ent of  the Next Gen­er­a­tion MLK Jr. Lead­er­ship award and the Prince­ton Prize in Race Rela­tions. She was recent­ly inter­viewed on the pod­cast This Amer­i­can Life.
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THE UNITED COALITION FOR RACIAL JUSTICE AND THE “SPEAK OUT,” Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan

By Gar­rett Fel­ber and Austin McCoy
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“The goal of the Speak-Out reflect­ed many of the aims of the orig­i­nal Teach In: to raise vis­i­bil­i­ty and edu­cate stu­dents regard­ing the­se issues, facil­i­tate coali­tions across var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions, and put pres­sure on the admin­is­tra­tion. The event was designed as a 12-hour takeover of Shapiro under­grad­u­ate library in three parts – Demon­stra­tion, Polit­i­cal Edu­ca­tion, and Strat­e­gy. We hoped to com­bine the tes­ti­mo­ni­al pow­er of the open-mic “speak out” with the his­tor­i­cal res­o­nance of the ‘sit in.’”
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On Octo­ber 9, 2013, 150 stu­dents, fac­ul­ty, and staff gath­ered in silent protest on Uni­ver­si­ty of Michigan’s Diag with signs that read: “We Want Diver­si­ty” and “I See You.” Gar­rett Fel­ber spoke with one of the orga­niz­ers, senior Chloe Brown, and asked her about the so-called “Freeze Out.” Brown out­lined the protest’s goals of rais­ing vis­i­bil­i­ty about pal­try enroll­ment and a poor cli­mate for stu­dents of col­or on Michigan’s cam­pus. Soon, Brown and Fel­ber were hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with stu­dents walk­ing by, many of whom expressed typ­i­cal sen­ti­ments about the “reverse racism” of affir­ma­tive action or not­ed that Michi­gan was the most diverse place they had ever been. 

After the Freeze Out, Austin McCoy and Fel­ber noticed that many stu­dents still believed affir­ma­tive action exist­ed in cam­pus admis­sions with regard to race. McCoy and Fel­ber thought that retelling the his­to­ry of Black protest and affir­ma­tive action at UM would con­tribute to the cam­pus-wide con­ver­sa­tion about admis­sions and to the bur­geon­ing move­ment for racial jus­tice.

Elid­ing decades of cam­pus strug­gle, the admin­is­tra­tion under then–President Mary Sue Cole­man exploit­ed Pro­pos­al 2 – the 2006 bal­lot ini­tia­tive which banned con­sid­er­a­tion of race, sex, and reli­gion in uni­ver­si­ty admis­sions – to defend the pre­cip­i­tous drop in under­rep­re­sent­ed minor­i­ty enroll­ment. Soon after the protest, we set about draft­ing an opin­ion piece in the Michi­gan Dai­ly which would tie togeth­er some of the past activism by the Black Action Move­ment and the mul­tira­cial Unit­ed Coali­tion Again­st Racism from the 1960s to the 1990s with what we saw as the first stir­rings of a stu­dent move­ment since we had arrived almost five years ear­lier as grad­u­ate stu­dents.  

The Op-Ed antic­i­pat­ed what would become the Unit­ed Coali­tion for Racial Justice’s mod­el for orga­niz­ing. “Build­ing a more inclu­sive cam­pus requires an under­stand­ing of past anti-racist stu­dent move­ments,” we wrote. We argued that BAM and UCAR expe­ri­enced suc­cess due to the lead­er­ship of stu­dents of col­or in com­bi­na­tion with white sup­port and through direct-action protests, explic­it demands, and a dis­rup­tion of cam­pus life: “Only through the com­bi­na­tion of strong stu­dent protest, edu­ca­tion, and an active admin­is­tra­tion can we begin to real­ize the aspi­ra­tions of this lega­cy of activism.”

A mon­th lat­er, the orga­niz­ers of the Freeze Out planned a fol­low-up meet­ing to talk about next steps. Mean­while, the Black Stu­dent Union’s “Being Black at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan,” or #BBUM, went viral that same day. #BBUM’s suc­cess infused con­sid­er­able ener­gy into the fol­low up meet­ing. Stu­dents pre­dom­i­nant­ly asso­ci­at­ed with BSU took to Twit­ter with the hash­tag #BBUM, ask­ing a sin­gle ques­tion: “What is being Black at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan?” The cam­paign respond­ed to the under­ly­ing issues which had prompt­ed the Freeze Out as well as Theta Xi fraternity’s plans for a racist “Hood Ratch­et” par­ty, which played upon neg­a­tive stereo­types of Black cul­ture. The #BBUM move­ment took the strug­gle beyond the con­fines of the cam­pus through social media and brought the expe­ri­ences of Black stu­dents at Michi­gan into nation­al con­ver­sa­tion with schools like UCLA and Dart­mouth, who were respon­si­ble for the viral video, “Black Bru­ins,” and Dartmouth’s “Free­dom Bud­get.” The Twit­ter campaign’s nation­al reach put sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure on the admin­is­tra­tion to respond. At the meet­ing the night that #BBUM went viral, Fel­ber pro­posed an all-night Teach In on affir­ma­tive action, cam­pus cli­mate, and minor­i­ty enroll­ment mod­eled after its his­tor­i­cal name­sake in 1965 protest­ing the Viet­nam War.

Gar­rett Fel­ber, Austin McCoy, Tatiana Cruz, and, lat­er, Jen­nifer Alza­te Gon­za­lez, began to plan the Teach In for the fol­low­ing semes­ter. Real­iz­ing that an orga­ni­za­tion­al base was nec­es­sary, we decid­ed to form an orga­ni­za­tion mod­eled after UCAR. Our group, the Unit­ed Coali­tion for Racial Jus­tice, held open meet­ings with fac­ul­ty and stu­dents from var­i­ous cam­pus orga­ni­za­tions and dis­ci­plines to orga­nize what became known as the “Speak Out.” UCRJ was coali­tion­al. We worked with activists from sev­er­al orga­ni­za­tions includ­ing BSU, the Hip Hop Con­gress, and the Grad­u­ate Employ­ees’ Orga­ni­za­tion.

The goal of the Speak Out reflect­ed many of the aims of the orig­i­nal Teach In: to raise vis­i­bil­i­ty and edu­cate stu­dents regard­ing the­se issues, facil­i­tate coali­tions across var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions, and to put pres­sure on the admin­is­tra­tion. The event was designed as a 12-hour takeover of Shapiro under­grad­u­ate library in three parts – Demon­stra­tion, Polit­i­cal Edu­ca­tion, and Strat­e­gy. We hoped to com­bine the tes­ti­mo­ni­al pow­er of the open-mic “speak-out” with the his­tor­i­cal res­o­nance of the “sit-in.”

UCRJ mount­ed a cam­paign to turn out peo­ple for the Speak Out. We spent sig­nif­i­cant time build­ing rela­tion­ships with oth­er stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions and inter­est­ed fac­ul­ty and staff. We engaged in polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion of the broad­er stu­dent body. We con­tact­ed pro­fes­sors teach­ing cours­es on issues of race and eth­nic­i­ty, offer­ing to give a con­struct­ed 10-min­ute mini-ses­sion on the his­to­ry of Black activism on cam­pus. Our open­ing ques­tion – “When was the last time Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan had a Black stu­dent enroll­ment of 10%?” – was a trick ques­tion. The answer, of course, was “nev­er.” But, because it was one of the orig­i­nal demands of the Black Action Move­ment in 1970, it opened a con­ver­sa­tion on the long his­to­ry for inclu­sion and access on cam­pus.

Con­fronting UM’s nar­ra­tive explain­ing the decline in Black enroll­ment was UCRJ’s great­est con­tri­bu­tion to UM’s racial jus­tice move­ment. Cole­man and the admin­is­tra­tion often blamed the lack of Black stu­dents on the state’s ban on Pro­pos­al 2. Yet, we point­ed out, although Black enroll­ment dropped from 7.2% to 4.8% in the four years fol­low­ing the ban, it was at an insti­tu­tion­al high of 9% in 1996 when Pres­i­dent Lee Bollinger arrived. To pro­claim itself as a war­rior for affir­ma­tive action, as the Uni­ver­si­ty had, reflect­ed a myopic view which buried its near­ly 20-year apa­thy about racial diver­si­ty. Our argu­ment stuck. #BBUM mem­bers reit­er­at­ed our argu­ment dur­ing a CNN broad­cast. The Dai­ly pub­lished its own edi­to­ri­al, “Push­ing Past Prop 2,” exco­ri­at­ing the administration’s use of the ban to explain declin­ing Black enroll­ment. Soon after, the admin­is­tra­tion relin­quished its own reliance on the bal­lot pro­pos­al, which had bought it near­ly a decade of insu­la­tion while it “wait­ed” on the Supre­me Court.

The Speak Out was held Feb­ru­ary 18, 2014, and drew over 1,000 peo­ple to hear the keynote speech­es by for­mer UM pres­i­dent James Dud­er­stadt and found­ing UCAR mem­ber and scholar/activist Bar­bara Rans­by. The irony of the two shar­ing the keynote address was not lost upon either, as Rans­by had once tak­en part in a 24-hour sit-in of Duderstadt’s office in 1987. It impor­tant­ly remind­ed us that even under the neolib­er­al “Michi­gan Man­date,” Duderstadt’s pres­i­den­cy over­saw the high­est Black enroll­ment and most aggres­sive fac­ul­ty-hir­ing ini­tia­tives in school his­to­ry – prod­ucts of fierce stu­dent activism and admin­is­tra­tive con­ces­sions. The sec­ond por­tion of the evening was devot­ed to edu­ca­tion ses­sions rang­ing from affir­ma­tive action and polit­i­cal orga­niz­ing to cur­ricu­lum design and dis­cus­sions of race and eth­nic­i­ty require­ments. The­se ses­sions were led by teams of under­grad­u­ates, grad­u­ate stu­dents, and fac­ul­ty in an attempt to fos­ter dia­logue across the­se seg­ments of cam­pus.

After the Speak Out, we sought to con­struct a racial jus­tice man­date – a series of demands that could put UM on a path towards estab­lish­ing a racial jus­tice cam­pus after the Supre­me Court of the Unit­ed States upheld Pro­pos­al 2. In the process, we encoun­tered a few prob­lems, some the pro­duct of suc­cess, and oth­ers of struc­ture. We could not retain the enthu­si­asm that drove our Speak Out orga­niz­ing. Also, we were a coali­tion – many of our orga­niz­ers con­tin­ued their activist work in their respec­tive orga­ni­za­tions. UM’s aca­d­e­mic cal­en­dar also pre­sent­ed a chal­lenge – sum­mer break at UM is four months long. While the long sum­mer sup­ports fac­ul­ty research, it also sucks the life out of cam­pus social move­ments.

While low Black enroll­ment and micro-aggres­sions remained salient the year after the Speak Out, police killings and the #Black­Lives­Mat­ter move­ment emerged as the cen­tral issues on cam­pus. Anti-Black police vio­lence hit home when Ann Arbor police shot and killed 40-year-old Aura Rain Rosser on Novem­ber 9, 2014. Two weeks lat­er, sev­er­al UCRJ mem­bers joined with stu­dent activists from oth­er stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions and local res­i­dents to protest the St. Louis Coun­ty Prosecutor’s deci­sion not to indict Dar­ren Wilson in the Michael Brown killing. Stu­dents from var­i­ous orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing UCRJ, joined with com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to form an anti-police bru­tal­i­ty group – Ann Arbor to Fer­gu­son. Since last Novem­ber, Ann Arbor to Fer­gu­son has sought to hold the city police depart­ment respon­si­ble for Rosser’s death by engag­ing in direct action protests.

While UCRJ’s and Ann Arbor to Ferguson’s work for racial jus­tice on and off cam­pus is incom­plete, we have con­tribut­ed to the larg­er goal that our pre­de­ces­sors strug­gled for over the last four decades: We want a rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent uni­ver­si­ty from that envi­sioned by the regents and admin­is­tra­tion. UM’s admin­is­tra­tion suf­fers from a pover­ty of imag­i­na­tion. Through the late-1980s, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan did not acknowl­edge Mar­t­in Luther King Jr.’s birth­day, despite Pres­i­dent Reagan’s mak­ing it a nation­al hol­i­day in 1983. When the Uni­ver­si­ty first hon­ored the day in 1989, it was called “Diver­si­ty Day.” UCAR saw this as a lim­it­ed vic­to­ry. “Is this a day when we should cel­e­brate our university’s diver­si­ty or applaud our country’s pro­gress in racial mat­ters?” Stu­dent orga­niz­ers answered: “NO.”

The lan­guage of racial jus­tice must be adopt­ed by the Uni­ver­si­ty as the frame­work for change. We can no longer accept the slip­per­i­ness of “diver­si­ty,” which con­tin­u­al­ly empha­sizes “aca­d­e­mic excel­lence” over jus­tice. Diver­si­ty bland­ly implies that every­one ben­e­fits from learn­ing in an envi­ron­ment with a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent view­points rep­re­sent­ed. A uni­ver­si­ty built upon racial jus­tice would ensure an envi­ron­ment where stu­dents, fac­ul­ty, and staff are empow­ered to make sub­stan­tive change from the bot­tom up. Whether it is the his­tor­i­cal demand for 10% Black enroll­ment, an end to micro-aggres­sions on cam­pus, or greater resources and afford­able hous­ing for under­rep­re­sent­ed stu­dents, the Uni­ver­si­ty must rede­fine its approach to the­se issues through a racial jus­tice frame­work, and stu­dent activists must con­tin­ue to be at the fore­front.

Austin McCoy is a PhD stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan, a co-founder of the Unit­ed Coali­tion of Racial Jus­tice, and a Black Lives Mat­ter activist. 

Gar­rett Fel­ber is a doc­tor­al can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan. He was Senior Research Advi­sor at the Mal­colm X Project at Columbia Uni­ver­si­ty and is co-author of The Portable Mal­colm X Read­er with Man­ning Marable.
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CHANGE THE NAME OF NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST HALL, Mid­dle Ten­nessee State Uni­ver­si­ty

By André Cantyphoto“When Bree New­some cut the Con­fed­er­ate Flag from the South Car­oli­na state capi­tol, we all saw our­selves up there. We were tired of wait­ing – and hear­ing the ‘her­itage’ debate. A sim­ple con­ver­sa­tion among friends online led to our most recent cam­paign. Con­sid­er­ate it ‘Round 3.’”

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In ele­men­tary school in Knox Coun­ty, Ten­nessee, in the 1990s, I believed we real­ly were judged based on our char­ac­ter and not our race. N.W.A. told me that police were beat­ing us down and killing us, sug­gest­ing a new order to come. Every Black His­to­ry Mon­th, teach­ers told me that select men and wom­en shaped soci­ety as we know it, ensur­ing that we wouldn’t suf­fer the same fate and leav­ing lit­tle to fight for. Apart from Mar­t­in Luther King, Jr., I learned of many lead­ers of the Civil Rights Move­ment who hailed from Ten­nessee – James Law­son, Diane Nash, CT Vivian, Avon Rollins, Robert Book­er. There was no point in lib­er­a­tion because all was well, right? 

Before long, I noticed the con­tin­ued exis­tence of racist images that I thought were long gone. Through library books and rap, I real­ized the empti­ness of the biogra­phies I knew, made to make the­se peo­ple into mythic fig­ures that could not be relat­able. I also moved on to a pre­dom­i­nate­ly white school where the Con­fed­er­ate Flag was ubiq­ui­tous. The sym­bol itself rep­re­sent­ed an army that want­ed my ances­tors in chains. Still, I felt that I couldn’t do any­thing about it. At a foot­ball game in 2002, we were greet­ed with the flag as we came out of the “away” side of the sta­di­um to pre­pare for bat­tle. It was one thing to fly it in cars or to hang it in a house, but, know­ing that the oppo­nent had Black play­ers, this was noth­ing but a taunt. I played that game with a sense of ret­ri­bu­tion.

In 2003, I attend­ed Mid­dle Ten­nessee State Uni­ver­si­ty. Admin­is­tra­tors often boast­ed about the diver­si­ty of the cam­pus in order to encour­age accept­ed stu­dents of col­or to matric­u­late. By way of decades-long activism, “diver­si­ty” on cam­pus was backed with sub­stance – mul­ti­cul­tur­al offices, minor­i­ty schol­ar­ships, and increased rep­re­sen­ta­tion of peo­ple of col­or in uni­ver­si­ty mate­ri­als. In this light, when I learned that the For­rest Hall ROTC build­ing I walked past every day was named after Nathan Bed­ford For­rest, Con­fed­er­ate Gen­er­al and Grand Wiz­ard of the Ku Klux Klan, my world shook. How could a uni­ver­si­ty that has come to pride itself on diver­si­ty praise a man who sym­bol­izes the antithe­sis of diver­si­ty?

In 2006, a cou­ple of stu­dents got togeth­er to form a cam­paign to bring the name down. We saw how prob­lem­at­ic it was for Black stu­dents to have to pay thou­sands in tuition and received a degree from a cam­pus that uplifts a man who fought to keep us in bondage. My best friend and I wrote two let­ters to the edi­tor for the stu­dent news­pa­per, Side­li­nes, which kicked off the cam­paign. We then sent 205 peti­tion sig­na­tures to the Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment Asso­ci­a­tion. In respon­se, “Stu­dents for For­rest Hall” formed to keep the name up. What Stu­dents for For­rest Hall had that we didn’t was insti­tu­tion­al­ized sup­port from the mus­cle of right-wing orga­ni­za­tions and media. One of those orga­ni­za­tions hired a Black man to dress in Con­fed­er­ate regalia in front of For­rest Hall. Some of Forrest’s best friends, appar­ent­ly, were Black.

The SGA did agree that the name should go down, and we felt a sense of vic­to­ry – that is, until SFH pro­duced a peti­tion with dou­ble the amount of names as our own, lead­ing the SGA to rescind its deci­sion. Short­ly after, some­one spray paint­ed “Black Pow­er” on For­rest Hall, mis­rep­re­sent­ing our oth­er­wise mul­tira­cial group as threat to white peo­ple. Through peti­tions, let­ters, and town-hall meet­ings, we tried to get the cam­pus to agree mere­ly to state that we had moved on from Con­fed­er­ate times. How­ev­er, the Pres­i­dent of the school, along with the Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment Asso­ci­a­tion, decid­ed that there wasn’t enough sup­port, and Forrest’s name remained. There was no nation­al con­ver­sa­tion or major orga­niz­ing in and out­side schools over Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols.

In 2012, Trayvon Mar­t­in was killed. After his death and the not guilty ver­dict of his killer, George Zim­mer­man, a sleep­ing giant awoke in the form of young people’s col­lec­tive dis­cov­ery of pow­er. From the school-to-pris­on pipeline to racist ped­a­gogy and cam­pus cul­ture, schools have become a front in the move­ment for Black lives. Fol­low­ing the hor­ri­ble killing of nine peo­ple in the his­tor­i­cal­ly Black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols – like the name of Nathan Bed­ford For­rest – have become anchors of the move­ment and, in turn, points of ten­sion for gov­ern­ment offi­cials. And, as in the 1960s, it has been pres­sure from the grass­roots that has led to deci­sions to take Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols down rather than benev­o­lence from politi­cians.

When Bree New­some cut the Con­fed­er­ate Flag from the South Car­oli­na state capi­tol, we all saw our­selves up there. We were tired of wait­ing – and hear­ing the “her­itage” debate. A sim­ple con­ver­sa­tion among friends online led to our most recent cam­paign. Con­sid­er­ate it “Round 3.” In 1989, Forrest’s like­ness was removed from the Uni­ver­si­ty Cen­ter, fol­lowed by our cam­paign in 2006. 

What we’ve seen in this round, unlike oth­ers, is a cross-sec­tion of orga­ni­za­tions who’ve expressed their thoughts to change the name. Murfrees­boro Dai­ly News Jour­nal want­ed Forrest’s name down. The Ruther­ford Coun­ty Democ­rats want­ed it down. Depart­ments at MTSU like Polit­i­cal Sci­ence and Inter­na­tion­al Rela­tions, Phi­los­o­phy, His­to­ry, and the Asso­ci­a­tion of Grad­u­ate Stud­ies in His­to­ry have all called for a change. The­se voic­es are reit­er­at­ing what we’ve been say­ing all along: the Con­fed­er­a­cy and its sym­bols have no place in pub­lic build­ings if we indeed con­sid­er our­selves a “more per­fect union.” Indeed, the cam­paign has been call­ing inten­tion­al­ly for orga­ni­za­tion­al sup­port, which was absent in 2006. We are using dif­fer­ent entry points of engage­ment – online posts, arti­cles, ral­lies, peti­tions, rela­tion­ship build­ing.

In August, we ral­lied. Chants of “Black Lives Mat­ter” and “Run For­rest Run” rang through­out the cam­pus, prompt­ing oth­er stu­dents to join in. Pro­fes­sors spoke about Forrest’s true his­to­ry. Now, a com­mit­tee has been formed to debate the issue and come to a deci­sion in April 2016, which will be near­ly ten years since our sec­ond cam­paign.

What is there left to debate? Which side do we need to hear? Pro­long­ing the  rec­om­men­da­tion of a change should not be an attempt to be fair to both sides. If the cam­pus didn’t keep Forrest’s like­ness at the Uni­ver­si­ty, then why the ROTC build­ing? Legit­imiz­ing the pro-Con­fed­er­ate side legit­imizes a lega­cy of hate that appeared in 1861 and reemerged 100 years lat­er in oppo­si­tion to the Civil Rights Move­ment. Forrest’s rep­u­ta­tion comes from lead­er­ship of an army whose pur­pose was to keep my ances­tors enslaved. What could pos­si­bly be said to make the case for the Con­fed­er­a­cy cred­i­ble?

Young peo­ple have always won­dered what our role would have been if we had lived in the 1960s. We’ve roman­ti­cized the front lines of a bat­tle that could change the course of his­to­ry. We’ve con­sid­ered the sce­nar­ios and inject­ed our desires into the peo­ple we read about in the his­to­ry books. Now, young peo­ple are dis­cov­er­ing our pow­er in pro­found­ly new ways. What hap­pened in 2006 was not a loss, but a foun­da­tion, a bridge to some­thing big­ger.

This moment calls for racist sym­bols to be tak­en down from pub­lic view – not to erase his­to­ry, but to illus­trate a new per­spec­tive, one that is not just tol­er­ant, but respect­ing of all groups of peo­ple, not one of just diver­si­ty, but of jus­tice and equi­ty. Though it is for the Ten­nessee Board of Regents and His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion to make the final deci­sion, the peo­ple have spo­ken already.

André Canty is on the Devel­op­ment and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Team at High­lander Research and Edu­ca­tion Cen­ter.
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PRESERVE AN INDEPENDENT AFRICA CENTER, Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia

By Oyinkan Muraina
12187767_1073583039328338_6775796335016582572_n“When Char­i­ty Migwi and I called our class­mates togeth­er to dis­cuss the fate of the Africa Cen­ter the night before, I nev­er imag­ined we would be protest­ing less than twen­ty-four hours lat­er. But this was, and is, the real­i­ty of a uni­ver­si­ty in the post-Mike Brown era. The cam­pus that once host­ed a “Top One Per­cent Par­ty” in an ode to the Occu­py Move­ment now accom­mo­dat­ed reg­u­lar protests, with par­tic­i­pa­tion not only from Penn stu­dents but also from neigh­bor­ing schools and the Philadel­phia com­mu­ni­ty.”

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Moments before the protest again­st the clo­sure of Penn’s Africa Cen­ter began, I sat fran­ti­cal­ly mes­sag­ing my friend’s moth­er. She had con­tact­ed me in the hopes of plan­ning a sur­prise birth­day din­ner in Philadelphia’s Cen­ter City for her daugh­ter. That same day, I was due to present my the­sis find­ings on gen­der-based vio­lence and post-con­flict rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in Africa, though nei­ther the pre­sen­ta­tion nor the the­sis were com­plete. I had not slept in two days and – despite my affin­i­ty for Assa­ta Shakur quotes – hard­ly felt like a rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

When Char­i­ty Migwi and I called our class­mates togeth­er to dis­cuss the fate of the Africa Cen­ter the night before, I nev­er imag­ined we would be protest­ing less than twen­ty-four hours lat­er. But this was, and is, the real­i­ty of a uni­ver­si­ty in the post-Mike Brown era. The cam­pus that once host­ed a “Top One Per­cent Par­ty” in an ode to the Occu­py Move­ment now accom­mo­dat­ed reg­u­lar protests, with par­tic­i­pa­tion not only from Penn stu­dents but also from neigh­bor­ing schools and the Philadel­phia com­mu­ni­ty. Stu­dents marched to city hall to avow that #Black­Lives­Mat­ter; inter­rupt­ed a Board of Trustees meet­ing to vocal­ize their dis­taste for Comcast’s attempts to seg­re­gate the Inter­net; staged a sit-in dur­ing Pres­i­dent Gutmann’s annu­al hol­i­day par­ty to call Penn to pay PILOTS, or Pay­ments in Lieu of Tax­es; and par­tic­i­pat­ed in reg­u­lar “Fer­gu­son Fri­days” in which Stu­dents Orga­niz­ing for Uni­ty and Lib­er­a­tion took to Locust Walk to protest the sys­temic oppres­sion of peo­ple of col­or through provoca­tive visu­als.

The death of Mike Brown ignit­ed a latent faith in stu­dents’ abil­i­ty to force change, espe­cial­ly among stu­dents of col­or. And while we did not know how best to force such change, each tragedy laid at our feet like the tra­vails of Job, inten­si­fy­ing rather than cor­rupt­ing that faith. The destruc­tion of the Black body was pal­pa­ble and endowed us with a nov­el sense of urgen­cy.

So, on April 13, I closed my lap­top to join approx­i­mate­ly forty stu­dents protest­ing the clo­sure of Penn’s Africa Cen­ter at the annu­al “Col­lege Palooza,” an event for admit­ted stu­dents to learn about the Col­lege of Arts and Sci­ences’ myr­i­ad depart­ments and pro­grams. There, we inter­rupt­ed the 60-sec­ond lec­ture of Dr. Kall­berg, Penn’s Asso­ciate Dean for Arts and Let­ters – and a major play­er in the deci­sion to close the Cen­ter. We then staged a sit-in for approx­i­mate­ly one hour. We asked: “Where is the Africa Cen­ter table?” and “What is hap­pen­ing to the Africa Cen­ter?” We piqued the curios­i­ty of pre-fresh­man, new to the rau­cous cam­pus envi­ron­ment before them. 

We all expect­ed back­lash from the admin­is­tra­tion. We were, by our own admis­sion, oper­at­ing on very lit­tle infor­ma­tion about what was hap­pen­ing. We knew three things: the Africa Cen­ter was clos­ing; Penn’s Cen­ter for Africana Stud­ies would absorb its activ­i­ties on July 1; and that this move was prompt­ed by fed­er­al bud­get cuts, which left the Africa Cen­ter bereft of its Title VI fund­ing, its pri­ma­ry source of sup­port.

The rest remained opaque. We ques­tioned whether Africana’s mis­sion and vision state­ments would be changed to reflect its expand­ing focus, whether African inter­na­tion­al stu­dents would have a phys­i­cal respite from a cam­pus that seemed igno­rant of their exis­tence, whether this would affect African Stud­ies majors, and whether offer­ings for those inter­est­ed in Africa could increase under such cir­cum­stances. Apart from this, we saw the clo­sure of the Africa Cen­ter as a pow­er­ful ges­ture, reflec­tive not only of cur­rent “bud­getary pit­falls,” but also sym­bol­ic of a sys­temic under­valu­ing, and there­fore under­in­vest­ment, in the study of Africa. At its core, we believed this lack of invest­ment to be racist. The con­join­ing of African and Africana Stud­ies implied to us that Penn believed all Black peo­ples to be a mono­lith.

Under no cir­cum­stances could Stu­dents for the Preser­va­tion of the Africa Cen­ter, SPAC,  con­ceive of endors­ing such a view. And, despite sev­er­al months of leg­work, try­ing to mar­ket the impor­tance of the study of Africa whilst active­ly pur­su­ing infor­ma­tion about the future of the Africa Cen­ter, by mid-April there still had been no pub­lic acknowl­edge­ment of what was to come. Given that most stu­dents would be leav­ing cam­pus as ear­ly as the first week of May, we knew we had to force the administration’s hand.

Doing this came at a cost. Some on cam­pus resent­ed our dis­so­ci­a­tion of Africa and African peo­ples from Africana Stud­ies, which – at the time – seemed pri­mar­i­ly focused on the Dias­po­ra. While we agreed about the impor­tance of this con­nec­tion, we felt that the ques­tion at hand was one of per­spec­tive, in which study­ing the con­ti­nent from the per­spec­tive of the Dias­po­ra con­stant­ly placed African his­to­ry with­in an exter­nal frame of ref­er­ence.  

Oth­ers ter­med our protest “reac­tive,” unaware of the months of emails, unan­swered invi­ta­tions, Pow­er­Point pre­sen­ta­tions, and pro­mo­tion­al video that pre­ced­ed the protest. In fact, this was one of the most proac­tive cam­paigns of the year. Fur­ther, the “reac­tive” nature of protests for Mike Brown, Eric Gar­ner, and Rekia Boyd did not detract from their poignan­cy for the­se same crit­ics. We drew from a lega­cy of action and reac­tion.

When in Jan­u­ary of 2012 Pres­i­dent Gut­mann failed once again to appoint a per­son of col­or to the posi­tion of Dean, a col­lec­tive of tenured Africana pro­fes­sors came togeth­er to write, “Guess who’s (not) com­ing to din­ner,” where they called out Pres­i­dent Gut­mann for the incon­gru­ence between her lan­guage sur­round­ing diver­si­ty and the make­up of her lead­er­ship team. They stat­ed they would boy­cott an annu­al din­ner with Gut­mann until she appoint­ed a per­son of col­or to the posi­tion of Dean. With­in two months, Gut­mann did just that. 

Sim­i­lar­ly, in the mid 90s, when a white colum­nist for the Dai­ly Penn­syl­va­ni­an repeat­ed­ly pub­lished racist op-eds using the n-word, Black stu­dents col­lect­ed 14,000 DPs on cam­pus and threw them away en masse, even going as far as snatch­ing the paper from the hands of trag­i­cal­ly inquis­i­tive indi­vid­u­als. To this day, every issue of the DP reads, “one per per­son.” No marked improve­ment in the con­di­tion of mar­gin­al­ized peo­ples on Penn’s cam­pus came free. We were always resist­ing – react­ing to, if you will – our oppres­sion.

Final­ly, we were accused of mis­un­der­stand­ing the issue at hand. Those lodg­ing this par­tic­u­lar com­plaint failed to appre­ci­ate the force with which we were deal­ing. Our col­lec­tive igno­rance was not the pro­duct of an unfor­tu­nate lapse in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, nor was it will­ful on our part. Rather, we were pur­pose­ly left igno­rant at the fault or behest – depend­ing on whom you ask – of the pow­ers that be. Our igno­rance, inten­tion­al or not, exem­pli­fied the fail­ure of the admin­is­tra­tion to include stu­dents in their deci­sion mak­ing process. This fail­ure, to the tune of $60,000 per a stu­dent, was and is unac­cept­able.

In fair­ness, fol­low­ing the protest, the admin­is­tra­tion acknowl­edged that the study of Africa had not always been up to par on Penn’s cam­pus. They claimed that this struc­tural adjust­ment enabled the Uni­ver­si­ty to devote more resources to African Stud­ies, via depart­men­tal sup­port. The admin­is­tra­tion fur­ther respond­ed that they would appoint “a fac­ul­ty plan­ning group to estab­lish a School-wide strat­e­gy for [Penn’s] research and teach­ing agen­da on Africa.” 

I per­son­al­ly remain skep­ti­cal of the­se plans, but hope they bear fruit. While we failed to keep the phys­i­cal doors of the Africa Cen­ter open, SPAC suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing the study of Africa a major school-wide con­cern. To my knowl­edge, this has not been the case for a very long time. Fur­ther, our protests earned us a seat at the table, chart­ing the future of African Stud­ies at Penn. Cur­rent African Stud­ies stu­dents recent­ly formed the Penn African Stud­ies Under­grad­u­ate Asso­ci­a­tion, PAUSA, an under­grad­u­ate advi­so­ry board to the Africana Depart­ment. Through this new vehi­cle, stu­dents hope to bol­ster the African Stud­ies major and advis­ing process, while bring­ing more Africa-focused pro­gram­ming to cam­pus.

One would think this suc­cess enough to qui­et the seething resent­ment I nursed dur­ing the protest and in the imme­di­ate weeks there­after. How­ev­er, the fact remained that I had once again given up my time and ener­gy to affirm the val­ue of my his­to­ry and peo­ples. I did not get to plan the birth­day din­ner I real­ly want­ed for my friend. I failed to present my the­sis find­ings that day. And while I am well aware that the­se were choic­es I made, I also remain painful­ly aware that my col­leagues of Euro­pean descent had nev­er  been, nor will they like­ly ever be, placed in such a posi­tion. The per­ma­nence of mon­u­ments devot­ed to the Euro­pean tra­di­tion go unques­tioned. How could Penn func­tion with­out Ger­man­ic, Slav­ic, and Clas­si­cal Stud­ies depart­ments?

In all of this, I have learned that the busi­ness of resis­tance is messy. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, our peace of mind is often inex­tri­ca­bly linked to the sta­tus quo that oppress­es us. 

Oyinkan Muraina hails from Macon, Geor­gia, and is cur­rent­ly serv­ing as a Ful­bright Fel­low in Ilor­in, Nige­ria.
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#CANYOUHEARUSNOW, Col­gate Uni­ver­si­ty

By Kris­ti Carey, Melis­sa Melén­dez, Kori Storther, and Natasha Tor­res

enhanced-11599-1411648247-7Vis­i­bil­i­ty is fatal in a world of pop­u­lar opin­ion. As I reflect on the sit-in that my friends and I led almost a year ago, those words are clear in my head. I hear con­stant echoes of the cries from my peers: “Can you hear us now. Can you hear us now. Can you hear us now.” For 101 hours, we occu­pied the Col­gate admis­sion office and begged for vis­i­bil­i­ty. We demand­ed to be heard. How­ev­er, as I look back on those days, I almost wish we nev­er brought our­selves into the light.”

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Over the past year, there has been a notice­able rise in stu­dent activism on col­lege cam­pus­es.  For us, the #CanYou­HearUs­Now move­ment was invig­o­rat­ed by the #Black­Lives­Mat­ter move­ment, but enact­ed with his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry of Black pow­er as it exist­ed on Colgate’s cam­pus. In 1969, there was a group called the Asso­ci­a­tion of Black Col­le­gians that com­mit­ted itself to cre­at­ing anti-oppres­sive and inclu­sive spaces on what was a very exclu­sion­ary cam­pus. More than fifty years lat­er, we called upon their strength, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and strat­e­gy with a five-day long sit-in on Sep­tem­ber 22, 2014, in our university’s admis­sions office, call­ing our­selves the Asso­ci­a­tion of Crit­i­cal Col­le­gians.

In the mid­st of the sit-in, the his­tor­i­cal roots of the Uni­ver­si­ty – white, male, straight, able-bod­ied – became more and more present. We start­ed to ask ques­tions about what “inclu­sive” learn­ing spaces real­ly mean: What is it, exact­ly, that we want to be includ­ed into? We real­ized that the cul­ture that exist­ed at Col­gate wasn’t some­thing we want­ed to be part of, but, rather, some­thing to change at its foun­da­tion. We con­sid­ered anti-oppres­sive spaces, crit­i­cal spaces of hope, and spaces of teach­ing and learn­ing. In the sit-in itself, stu­dents, fac­ul­ty, and staff shared expe­ri­ences, played music togeth­er, loved each oth­er, and helped one anoth­er heal – alto­geth­er, in the span of 100 hours, man­i­fest­ing the­se kinds of spaces.

In this piece, we will talk about the tan­gi­ble vic­to­ries that took place after the sit-in – the manda­to­ry train­ings, the new hires, the pro­gram­ming entered into Colgate’s cur­ricu­lum. What’s hard­er, but more mean­ing­ful, is what came next for us – how our hurt and our heal­ing taught us to move for­ward, both as indi­vid­u­als and as a com­mu­ni­ty.

Kori

Vis­i­bil­i­ty is fatal in a world of pop­u­lar opin­ion. As I reflect on the sit-in that my friends and I lead almost a year ago, those words are clear in my head. I hear con­stant echoes of the cries from my peers: “Can you hear us now. Can you hear us now. Can you hear us now.” For 101 hours, we occu­pied the Col­gate Admis­sion office and begged for vis­i­bil­i­ty. We demand­ed to be heard. 

How­ev­er, as I look back on those days, I almost wish we nev­er brought our­selves into the light. Every­one talks about how “pow­er­ful” a move­ment it was and how “brave” we were to stand up for inclu­siv­i­ty and accep­tance of all stu­dents at our uni­ver­si­ty. But no one talks about the pain of being vis­i­ble. No one talks about the stares and the silence that fills rooms as you enter. No one talks about the weight of respon­si­bil­i­ty to con­tin­ue to be the bea­con of hope that is undoubt­ed­ly nec­es­sary for the Black and brown bod­ies on a cam­pus that was nev­er made for us. And don’t get me wrong. I am one of the strongest wom­en you will ever meet. I under­stand injus­tice, cap­i­tal­ism, and all the oth­er isms that ren­der some lives – my life – invalu­able. It’s the price of being Black, right? Ange­la Davis is my idol, and if you don’t know now you know Nig­ga. So yes, I’m down for the cause and the first in line to fight back, to resist. But no one talks about how to refu­el the tank of resis­tance once you have lit­er­al­ly put your blood, sweat, and tears into this work. They don’t teach self love, self worth, or col­lec­tive heal­ing in col­lege. They don’t teach you that vis­i­bil­i­ty is fatal if you don’t love your­self.

I used to get upset as I sift­ed through move­ments in the past, each start­ing off with so much momen­tum and then slow­ly drift­ing into the dis­tance. “Why didn’t peo­ple keep going?” I asked myself count­less times. 

We marched up to the admis­sions office that day because our lives depend­ed on it. Because we didn’t know how we were going to wake up and go to class the next day. But what we didn’t take into account was the bro­ken­ness that this sys­tem of white suprema­cy had instilled in the depths of our being. We were strong in those moments and were able to bring about a lot of change in the process, but when we took off those masks of strength, we were still bro­ken. We were still inse­cure about our Black and brown bod­ies, our lev­els of intel­li­gence, our wor­thi­ness on this cam­pus and this world. We still didn’t love our­selves, and that made all the dif­fer­ence. So the ques­tion is not, how do we orga­nize? The ques­tion is, how do we learn to love our­selves so that the next time we step into the light, we don’t die?

Meli

I have this vivid image of my friends, sis­ters, “ves­sels” sob­bing when the sit-in was over. While our sup­port­ers cel­e­brat­ed, we cried. We were in a cor­ner while our pro­fes­sors tried to calm us down, told us to breathe, told us we didn’t fail, we did good, change was going to come, etc.

The ques­tion is, why were we cry­ing?

We won, right?

Peo­ple around the world were sup­port­ing us, re-tweet­ing us, ask­ing ques­tions. Alum­ni were reach­ing out, pro­fes­sors were speak­ing up, the admin­is­tra­tion agreed to our 21 points. We should’ve been hap­py, right?

I cried because it was over. At that time, I was a stu­dent at Col­gate for four years, going on my fifth, and I had nev­er felt more com­fort­able. Peo­ple were meet­ing each oth­er, shar­ing food, blan­kets – shar­ing their souls with their sto­ries. Peo­ple were lis­ten­ing to each oth­er, teach­ing each oth­er. Peo­ple were fight­ing for one anoth­er – fight­ing for them­selves. Peo­ple were mak­ing them­selves vul­ner­a­ble in a way I have nev­er seen in my entire life. It wasn’t per­fect and I would hate to roman­ti­cize it, but I could’ve stayed in that space forever. I didn’t want to leave. I was so proud of every­one. I had actu­al fan­tasies of stay­ing in that space forever – frozen in a time and place where peo­ple felt gen­uine­ly cared for. Even if you didn’t “agree” with our actions or mis­sion, some­one in the room could have engaged with you. We didn’t have to have the same sto­ry or strug­gle to be con­nect­ed. I cried because this was an ide­al place to be. I cried because I knew it was going to end and it would be impos­si­ble to recre­ate.

In the after­math of the sit-in, there were more Black/brown bod­ies being mur­dered in the U.S. with­out jus­tice. In the after­math of the sit-in, lan­guage like “us” vs. “them” became very promi­nent on cam­pus. In the after­math of the sit-in, the peo­ple who were heav­i­ly involved were demor­al­ized, exhaust­ed, and heart-bro­ken. My life was a shit show after the sit-in, and it forced me to re-eval­u­ate the way I want to live.

What I learned:

  1. I can’t make peo­ple love me.
  2. I know it’s hard.

Learn­ing how to lis­ten to peo­ple

Speak­ing up again­st vio­lence.

Rec­og­niz­ing the way you’re com­plic­it in caus­ing peo­ple pain.

Giv­ing up priv­i­leges.

       Check­ing your friends.

It is hard, I feel you, but being human is always going to be hard.

I can’t spend the rest of my life try­ing to con­vince peo­ple I mat­ter.

I am not going to kill myself.

  1. Hap­pi­ness is resis­tance and I should try to enjoy it when I feel it (with­out guilt)
  2. I have agen­cy. I can make change with the sup­port of the peo­ple I have in my cor­ner.
  3. Lov­ing myself has to be my # 1 pri­or­i­ty; not just self-care (eat­ing healthy, exer­cis­ing, tak­ing long baths etc)

       I mean LOVE

          Actu­al­ly believ­ing:

       I am beau­ti­ful

       I am smart

       I am wor­thy of life

       I am whole

Kris­ti

I was lying on my stom­ach, salt-water-stained face into a pil­low, when one of my sis­ters came up to me. “We cel­e­brate vic­to­ries,” she said. It was the end of the five day sit-in demon­stra­tion that I had helped facil­i­tate – we had final­ly got­ten an accept­able respon­se from Col­gate University’s admin­is­tra­tion. Laid out in a 15-page doc­u­ment, we had in our hands the administration’s com­mit­ment to address the 21 actions steps we had pre­sent­ed in the begin­ning of that week. The ini­tia­tives were orga­nized under insti­tu­tions such as Admis­sions, Finan­cial Aid, Cur­ricu­lum and Fac­ul­ty hiring/retention, and Stu­dent Life--the doc­u­ment was accom­pa­nied by a web­site pro­vid­ing live updates and the con­crete terms of the University’s pro­gress. Yes, the­se changes meant some­thing. They made us real­ize we had a voice in our school, and they gave us some rea­son to hope. But even then, I need­ed to be remind­ed that this was a vic­to­ry. Look­ing back, I wish I could have embod­ied and lis­tened to that mes­sage for the rest of term. The count­less meet­ings with the admin­is­tra­tion, the con­stant argu­ing with class­mates, peers, friends, the jus­ti­fi­ca­tions offered to pro­fes­sors as to why all this mat­tered – none of those seemed like vic­to­ries worth cel­e­brat­ing to me. 

For most of the year fol­low­ing, I felt bro­ken. Despite pro­fes­sors and friends remind­ing us that “car­ing for [one]self is not self-indul­gence, it is self-preser­va­tion, and that is an act of polit­i­cal war­fare,” many of us seemed to for­get that as we moved through space in ways bro­ken, uncar­ing, and almost numb. You can’t throw a bomb on your neigh­bor­hood with­out expect­ing your house to get hit. You can’t attempt to change the cul­ture at the place you call home with­out chang­ing the way you oper­ate in that space. Short of the­se real­iza­tions, the changes that were being made didn’t feel like vic­to­ries at all. They felt pro­ce­du­ral, dry, and half-heart­ed. It was hard for me to see the heart and work that was going into the school, part­ly because I didn’t believe in its sin­cer­i­ty. Despite the tru­ly amaz­ing space that was cre­at­ed dur­ing the sit-in – of shar­ing, lis­ten­ing, teach­ing – my expec­ta­tions of peo­ple out­side that space remained unhope­ful. They obscured the small vic­to­ries we had achieved. 

Then, I remem­bered when a stu­dent in my year came up to me at the end of the sit-in. He talked to us about how he had suf­fered from sev­ere social anx­i­ety for the past four years. He had come to the sit-in because a friend had asked him to and told us how thank­ful he was that he did. The sit-in, or the space that the sit-in cre­at­ed, some­how allowed him to work through his anx­i­ety. Nev­er before had he felt so wel­comed, so com­fort­able around over 100 peo­ple. This is the moment that I recall when I think of small vic­to­ries, because it makes me think of how I, myself, felt in the space of the sit-in. We had cre­at­ed some­thing pow­er­ful, the kind of crit­i­cal and ped­a­gog­i­cal space that we talk about in edu­ca­tion­al stud­ies and peace and con­flict stud­ies.  This is the moment that I think of when I begin to lose faith in the train­ings, and the pro­gram­mings. Because yes, per­haps they will change some­thing.  But what will do more is when we start believ­ing in each oth­er – when I start believ­ing in oth­ers and, just as impor­tant­ly, believ­ing in myself. The sit-in changed me. Not because the Uni­ver­si­ty changed, but because mov­ing for­ward, I real­ized that all along, this move­ment was about peo­ple – it was about chang­ing hearts and minds, mov­ing spir­its, and nur­tur­ing souls. It was about “each one, teach one,” after all, and that’s what I will think of as we move through this strug­gle togeth­er. And just because we are imper­fect, and often vul­ner­a­ble and most­ly afraid, does not change the fact that we are also brave and deserv­ing, wor­thy and here for a pur­pose.

Natasha

Look­ing back at what has tran­spired from a removed per­spec­tive, what I think about now is the heal­ing. While I will nev­er dimin­ish the envi­ron­ment that was cre­at­ed with­in those admis­sion build­ing walls – the hugs, smiles, glances, con­ver­sa­tions, dance par­ties, tears, frus­tra­tion, hap­pi­ness, under­stand­ing – I real­ize I left as bro­ken as I was when I entered that admis­sions build­ing. So I then ask myself, why? Why was I break­ing down cry­ing after our “21 steps” were approved? Why did I feel insignif­i­cant and inad­e­quate when every­one around me was reas­sur­ing what we had accom­plished was immense? Why did this not feel like it was enough?

As a wom­an of col­or, I hadn’t worked through the my inter­nal­ized infe­ri­or­i­ty. When you mix that with hyper­vis­i­bil­i­ty that our move­ment cre­at­ed, the flood­gates of self-loathing (re)opened. Who was I to do this? How can I be a ves­sel? Isn’t my per­spec­tive lim­it­ed? What about my posi­tion­al­i­ty? Shouldn’t I know more the­o­ry? I should be more versed, no? I remem­ber scrolling through yik-yak inten­tion­al­ly look­ing at a post that talked about how shit­ty we were as indi­vid­u­als, how lim­it­ed our move­ment was, how we cre­at­ed the feel­ing of “us vs. them” through­out cam­pus. I just sat there for months like, damn, you are right. We did this. We didn’t rep­re­sent every­one equal­ly. We failed you. We should’ve done bet­ter. I should’ve done bet­ter. I inter­nal­ized every­thing neg­a­tive that was expressed, and reject­ed the pos­i­tiv­i­ty, the voic­es that said what we were doing was valu­able. I didn’t think crit­i­cal­ly about it until a friend of mine told me I had to stop, that my self-destruc­tive addic­tion to those tapes was going kill me one day. 

I remem­ber an email Kori, Kris­ti, Melis­sa and I received after the sit-in from a con­cerned professor/mentor/friend that I only came to under­stand dur­ing my last moments at Col­gate. It read, “you have accom­plished an incred­i­ble amount, but I fear you are in for a great emo­tion­al toll, as is always the case when peo­ple accom­plish great things sud­den­ly. Peo­ple will expect too much of you, you’ll be behind in your reg­u­lar work, and you’ll be angry at your­selves because you don’t feel the way you think you should… I hope you will all priv­i­lege self-care in the com­ing days, and that you will prac­tice rad­i­cal self-accep­tance.” Those last four words play back in my head often. I don’t know what that looks like, but I’m fight­ing like hell to find out.

We talk about lib­er­a­tion as if it’s a pro­duct, a for­mu­la, some­thing we need to cre­ate or fig­ure out – when, real­ly, it’s with­in, “that untapped source of pow­er” that Audre Lorde talks about. Don’t get me wrong, I am firm believ­er in chal­leng­ing sys­tems and indi­vid­u­als (includ­ing myself). But, as I move for­ward I am more inter­est­ed in how we do that self-work, the excru­ci­at­ing process of “vom­it­ing up all of the filth” that we are taught about our­selves and how cen­tral it is to shift­ing a cul­ture that is love­less. I often think about the peo­ple in my life, with­in this coun­try, and glob­al­ly doing this work. And I won­der how their hearts and spir­its are doing, what they do to decol­o­nize their minds, where they find hope, who’s affirm­ing them, but more impor­tant­ly, how they prac­tice rad­i­cal self-accep­tance.

Kris­ti Carey is a first year Master’s stu­dent in the Insti­tute for Gen­der, Race, Sex­u­al­i­ty, and Social Jus­tice at the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Columbia. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Edu­ca­tion­al Stud­ies and Peace and Con­flict Stud­ies from Col­gate Uni­ver­si­ty. She is pas­sion­ate about social jus­tice activism and the many forms it can take, as well as an advo­cate that self-preser­va­tion, as Audre Lorde reminds us, is an act of polit­i­cal war­fare. She’s also an avid fan of cof­fee, hot sauce, and banana smooth­ies, and enjoys the com­pa­ny of warm dogs and peo­ple.

Melis­sa Melén­dez is Puer­to Rican from the Bronx. She is addict­ed to fresh­ly baked choco­late chip cook­ies and is cur­rent­ly try­ing to incor­po­rate rad­i­cal, hon­est love into every­thing she does while try­ing to inten­tion­al­ly make her hap­pi­ness a pri­or­i­ty and as impor­tant to her social jus­tice work, fam­i­ly, job, etc.

Kori Storther was born and bred from she-roes. As Michelle Oba­ma once said “I am an exam­ple of what is pos­si­ble when girls from the very begin­ning of their lives are loved and nur­tured by peo­ple around them. I was sur­round­ed by extra­or­di­nary wom­en in my life who taught me about qui­et strength and dig­ni­ty.”

Natasha Tor­res, born and raised in Cleve­land, OH, is a proud Lati­na fem­i­nist killjoy inter­est­ed in social jus­tice, edu­ca­tion, first-generation/low income stu­dents, and artivism/activism. She’s a firm believ­er of art as a trans­for­ma­tive tool for heal­ing, espe­cial­ly amongst peo­ple of col­or. After grad­u­at­ing Col­gate Uni­ver­si­ty, she’s ded­i­cat­ed her time to learn­ing how bal­ance her social jus­tice work with her own self-work.
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DIE-IN, #SHUTITDOWN, Uni­ver­si­ty of Tex­as

By Tyler Eng­lish-Beck­with
2014-12-05_Garner_Protest_Marshall.Tidrick51177“Just hours after we lay on the asphalt for Eric Gar­ner, I got word of the mur­der of Rumain Bris­bon in Ari­zona. As I read the arti­cle about yet anoth­er unarmed Black per­son shot down by a cop, a pro­fes­sor approached me to share her thoughts on the protest. She described the Die-In as peace­ful and applaud­ed my ‘dig­ni­ty’ and ‘respect.’ She said that she had heard from a cam­pus police offi­cer that the protest went off with­out a hitch and that she didn’t expect any­thing less from UT stu­dents. I quick­ly made an excuse to leave the con­ver­sa­tion.”

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Writ­ing this on the one year anniver­sary of Michael Brown’s mur­der by the state, near­ly one mon­th after San­dra Bland died in police cus­tody in my home state, and two days after Chris­tian Taylor’s mur­der by an offi­cer in train­ing just a few miles from where I grew up, I am unable to write a respectable essay about respectable col­lege protests. The orig­i­nal ver­sion of this piece told a sto­ry of a well thought out plan that end­ed in a com­ing togeth­er of com­mu­ni­ties. That sto­ry is not true. In the orig­i­nal ver­sion of this essay, I paint­ed myself as a young activist who found clar­i­ty. Also not true. This is sim­ply an effort to tell the truth. There is no room for lies in lib­er­a­tion.

Last Decem­ber, with the help of Jas­mine Gra­ham, and Faith Carter, two stu­dent activists and incred­i­ble Black wom­en, I orga­nized a Die-In on the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tex­as’ cam­pus in respon­se to a Staten Island grand jury’s deci­sion not to indict Eric Garner’s mur­der­er. Just two weeks after receiv­ing the news that Michael Brown’s mur­der­er, Dar­ren Wilson, would also not be indict­ed, I imme­di­ate­ly felt a rush of anger. I was not frus­trat­ed, or con­cerned. I was furi­ous. That night I cre­at­ed a Face­book event titled, “DIE IN #SHUTITDOWN for Eric Gar­ner.” The main goal was to have Black pro­test­ers lie in the biggest inter­sec­tion on cam­pus at a time of high traf­fic to, effec­tive­ly, shut it down – mir­ror­ing oth­er protests I had seen in the media. With­in a few hours, over 600 peo­ple had RSVP’d, many more than I expect­ed. Just 15 hours after con­sid­er­ing the idea, Black stu­dents, pro­fes­sors, and uni­ver­si­ty staff lay on the pave­ment of 21st Street on a rainy day in Austin. As the bell from the tow­er rang, non-Black pro­test­ers joined in as we stood and chant­ed, “Black lives mat­ter,” in the cen­ter of the cam­pus of a uni­ver­si­ty infa­mous for bleach bombs tar­get­ed at Black and Brown stu­dents and a fierce ded­i­ca­tion to the remem­brance of the Con­fed­er­a­cy.

When the protest end­ed, I hugged my friends, I spoke to a news crew, and then I went back to class. I am not sure who called the news crew, but they were there. When we arrived at the inter­sec­tion, the cam­pus police had it blocked off. I am not sure who alert­ed them. There were peo­ple with tables advo­cat­ing for caus­es I was unfa­mil­iar with. I could say I felt invig­o­rat­ed by the ener­gy of so many peo­ple gath­ered to protest the issue of Black geno­cide in Amer­i­ca. I could say that I felt proud of my fel­low Black stu­dent body for being so sup­port­ive. I could say, per­haps, that I felt the peo­ple involved or unin­volved were some­how moved by our actions. All the­se things may be true, but the truest thing I felt after leav­ing that protest was lost. I sat in class unable to focus, think­ing, “What actu­al­ly just hap­pened?”

On the night that I cre­at­ed the Face­book event, I received many mes­sages from white “allies.” They ques­tioned, “What should white peo­ple do dur­ing the protest?” I answered, “De-cen­ter your­selves.” They ques­tioned, “I feel uncom­fort­able being involved in this protest.” I answered, “Don’t come.” They ques­tioned, “Are you sure this is the best way to show sup­port?” I didn’t answer. After the twen­ti­eth mes­sage from allies more con­cerned with their own roles in the Die-In than with any­thing else, I stopped answer­ing. After receiv­ing so many noti­fi­ca­tions from folks demand­ing that in the mid­dle of orga­niz­ing, I imme­di­ate­ly address their ques­tions – to the point that my phone reboot­ed itself – I strong­ly con­sid­ered can­celling the protest. With the excep­tion of UT’s Palestine Sol­i­dar­i­ty Com­mit­tee, my inbox was crawl­ing with non-Black allies’ sug­ges­tions of cre­at­ing a more respectable protest. How could a protest again­st Black geno­cide hap­pen at a uni­ver­si­ty with a Black stu­dent pop­u­la­tion of less than four per­cent, in the most eco­nom­i­cal­ly seg­re­gat­ed city in the coun­try? Even in the mid­st of resis­tance, I found myself bom­bard­ed by the over­whelm­ing need to bow to white com­fort. I fold­ed and opened a mes­sage. A white ally sug­gest­ed that non-Black pro­test­ers stand in a cir­cle of pro­tec­tion around the Black bod­ies on the ground. I agreed, regret­tably.

Just hours after we lay on the asphalt for Eric Gar­ner, I got word of the mur­der of Rumain Bris­bon in Ari­zona. As I read the arti­cle about yet anoth­er unarmed Black per­son shot down by a cop, a pro­fes­sor approached me to share her thoughts on the protest. She described the Die-In as peace­ful and applaud­ed my “dig­ni­ty” and “respect.” She said that she had heard from a cam­pus police offi­cer that the protest went off with­out a hitch and that she didn’t expect any­thing less from UT stu­dents. I quick­ly made an excuse to leave the con­ver­sa­tion.

The day after the protest, I walked to my final class of the semes­ter. As I entered a room that held one of the four Black stud­ies cours­es I was tak­ing that term, I heard stu­dents shar­ing their thoughts on the protest. One stu­dent said, “I couldn’t make it I had class, it was over quick.” Anoth­er shared, “I felt more uni­fied than I ever have on cam­pus.” The last stu­dent said, “Are we going to keep pat­ting our­selves on the back for lay­ing down for 15 min­utes in the street? Wasn’t no cars com­ing! We wasn’t real­ly doing any­thing. Nothing’s changed. I’m still just as scared one of the­se racist ass stu­dents could just walk up to me and shoot me. Why don’t we protest that?” As of June 1, 2015, Tex­as has “cam­pus car­ry” writ­ten into law, allow­ing con­cealed weapons on cam­pus.

In the months since the Die-In, I have not again orga­nized a tra­di­tion­al protest. I have cre­at­ed activist the­ater, and trav­elled to Brazil for activist research, but I have not felt com­pelled to orga­nize in the same way. The orig­i­nal ver­sion of this essay end­ed with a lesson I didn’t actu­al­ly learn. This ver­sion ends with a few truths.

The truth is, I shunned a group of non-Black stu­dent activists whose pet project was police bru­tal­i­ty – and their attempts to make me their mas­cot. The truth is, I grew tired of the white gaze. The truth is, it real­ly did feel lib­er­at­ing to stand in a cir­cle fac­ing my peers and hear them say “Black Lives Mat­ter” repeat­ed­ly. The truth is, The Auto­bi­og­ra­phy of Assa­ta Shakur has all the tools to lead to lib­er­a­tion. The truth, is there has been no tan­gi­ble change on cam­pus since the protest. The truth is, I’m not sure if this is help­ful, or inter­est­ing, or good for the cause, or the right thing to write, but this is the truth. 

Tyler is a writer, fight­ing des­per­ate­ly for her voice.
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PRISON DIVEST, City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York

By Leon Camp­bell
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“Black lives still mat­ter after the car door slams and after the cell door bolts shut. Black and Brown peo­ple are being fun­neled into pris­ons where they are not sur­viv­ing and where they are exploit­ed as slaves, pro­duc­ing for the pris­on and prof­it. Right here in New York City, the pris­on system’s inhu­man­i­ty is appar­ent on a dai­ly basis. The case of Bronx Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege stu­dent Kalief Brow­der, who was held at Riker’s Island for three years with no charges, serves as a reminder that the pris­on sys­tem affects CUNY stu­dents direct­ly.”

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City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York Pris­on Divest began this past spring when we found out, through a pub­lic records request, that CUNY was invest­ing almost a quar­ter of a mil­lion dol­lars into pri­vate pris­on com­pa­nies and pris­on con­trac­tors. The­se endow­ments are fun­neled into com­pa­nies such as G4S, Cor­rec­tions Cor­po­ra­tions of Amer­i­ca, GEO Group, Inc., and Ara­mark and are used to fund under­grad­u­ate schol­ar­ships.

As CUNY Pris­on Divest, we con­sid­er the­se invest­ments part of the attack on work­ing class and oppressed peo­ples through­out the US. This attack reflects a two-fold repro­duc­tion of the dom­i­nant rela­tions of soci­ety: ide­o­log­i­cal­ly (uni­ver­si­ties) and repres­sive­ly (pris­ons). Though CUNY prides itself on being an acces­si­ble uni­ver­si­ty for the peo­ple of New York, it is clear that its inter­estswhich are dom­i­nat­ed by the Board of Trusteesare the oppo­site. This is appar­ent as the under­priv­i­leged are locked out of CUNY through tuition hikes, mass incar­cer­a­tion, and cuts to resources such as day­care cen­ters and free print­ing. Pris­ons attack us in kind. In 2013, the US rep­re­sent­ed 4.4% of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, but housed 22% of the world’s pris­on­ers. The nation­al and racial char­ac­ter­is­tics of this attack are clear, as Black peo­ple are incar­cer­at­ed at five times the rate of white peo­ple, and His­pan­ic peo­ple are near­ly twice as like­ly to be incar­cer­at­ed as whites.

CUNY active­ly sup­ports this sys­tem, which dom­i­nates, kid­naps, and dis­pos­es of Black and Lati­no peo­ple by the mil­lions – not only with its invest­ments, but also in its col­lab­o­ra­tion with the NYPD, its gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hoods, and its over­all exclu­sion of peo­ple of col­or.

CUNY Pris­on Divest is a cam­paign to divest from pris­ons. How­ev­er, we don’t see divest­ment as our only – or even our pri­ma­ry – goal. In the end, divest­ment is minor com­pared to the larg­er prob­lem of mass incar­cer­a­tion. To make deci­sive changes, we have to get at the root of the prob­lem: polit­i­cal pow­er. Beg­ging exist­ing pow­ers, who func­tion through white suprema­cy to switch sides, like the CUNY admin­is­tra­tion, is naive and inef­fec­tive in dis­man­tling the polit­i­cal pow­er that makes such sys­tem­at­ic abuse pos­si­ble. This is why we use divest­ment as a tac­tic in the much larg­er strug­gle to build pow­er in our com­mu­ni­ties and on our cam­pus­es to con­tend with exist­ing pow­ers for con­trol over our own lives. In the streets, at the work­place, in the home, and at our schools, rad­i­cal changes will not occur with­out devel­op­ing the nec­es­sary degree of pow­er among the peo­ple who would ben­e­fit from the­se changes to be able to enact them. 

We envi­sion a strug­gle for dual pow­er that devel­ops to the point where the stu­dents and com­mu­ni­ty, orga­nized under a coali­tion of cam­paigns again­st patri­archy, nation­al oppres­sion, cap­i­tal­ism, and oppres­sion in all its forms, could seize CUNY cam­pus­es as bases for fur­ther strug­gle. We see how nec­es­sary it is for us not only to be on cam­pus­es, but also orga­niz­ing in our com­mu­ni­ties that are impact­ed by mass incar­cer­a­tion. As CUNY Pris­on Divest, we’re not fight­ing for clean­er con­fronta­tions with police, but for an end to the police inva­sion of our com­mu­ni­ties to kid­nap and dis­pose of us. We don’t want soft­er, “pro­fes­sion­al,” or more palat­able oppres­sion; we want lib­er­a­tion.

Like­wise, while there has been sig­nif­i­cant atten­tion to injus­tices at the point of con­tact with police, we tack­le the­se moments but don’t stop there. Black lives still mat­ter after the car door slams and after the cell door bolts shut. Black and Brown peo­ple are being fun­neled into pris­ons where they are not sur­viv­ing and where they are exploit­ed as slaves, pro­duc­ing for the pris­on and prof­it of large cor­po­ra­tions. Right here in New York City, the pris­on system’s inhu­man­i­ty is appar­ent on a dai­ly basis. The case of Bronx Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege stu­dent Kalief Brow­der, who was held at Riker’s Island for three years with no charges, serves as a reminder that the pris­on sys­tem affects CUNY stu­dents direct­ly. In June, after hav­ing spent two years in soli­tary con­fine­ment, Brow­der com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Over the sum­mer, CUNY Pris­on Divest ded­i­cat­ed itself to build­ing with grass­roots com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions that are fight­ing mass incar­cer­a­tion and police bru­tal­i­ty. The­se groups include Resist Rik­ers, Milk Not Jails, Respon­si­ble Endow­ments Coali­tion, Stu­dents With­out Bor­ders, Pic­ture the Home­less, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Stu­dent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, and NYC Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Palestine. Over the sum­mer, we col­lab­o­rat­ed with Resist Rik­ers to plan an action to end soli­tary con­fine­ment at Rik­ers Island. Mem­bers of CUNY Pris­on Divest are also part of dif­fer­ent Cop Watch groups, because we see how impor­tant it is to provide direct ser­vices to peo­ple who are heav­i­ly sur­veilled and policed. Now that the fall has come, we look for­ward to build­ing a big­ger base on cam­pus. We have sev­er­al actions and edu­ca­tion­al work­shops planned for the upcom­ing semes­ter.

CUNY Pris­on Divest’s demands include:

  1. That the Board of Trustees imme­di­ate­ly divest from all cor­po­ra­tions that prof­it from mass incar­cer­a­tion and adopt a pol­i­cy pro­hibit­ing invest­ment in any pri­vate pris­on cor­po­ra­tions, pris­on con­trac­tors, pris­on prof­i­teers, and Wall Street firms hold­ing one mil­lion or more shares in pri­vate pris­on cor­po­ra­tions.
  2. In order to ful­ly dis­en­tan­gle CUNY from the pris­on sys­tem, all CUNY cam­pus­es must demil­i­ta­rize so that our stu­dents can attend class and cam­pus activ­i­ties with­out fear of police harass­ment, vio­lence, and intim­i­da­tion, and so that stu­dents are not fun­neled into the inhu­mane and racist pris­on sys­tem. This means no more police on cam­pus, no more law enforce­ment infil­tra­tion of stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions, and no more police or mil­i­tary recruit­ment on CUNY cam­pus­es.
  3. In order to invest in our futures, not our cap­tiv­i­ty, when CUNY divests from pris­ons, we must restore lost fund­ing for in-pris­on col­lege edu­ca­tion pro­grams through the Pris­on­er Reen­try Insti­tute Col­lege Ini­tia­tive.

Leon Camp­bell is a stu­dent at the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York, where he orga­nizes with Pris­on Divest. 
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THE TRAUMA CENTER CAMPAIGN, Chicago

By Michael McCown and Gabrielle Newell
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“In moments when the Left is in retreat, there is a ten­den­cy among activists to con­cep­tu­al­ize pol­i­tics as a “psy­chother­a­peu­tic activ­i­ty.” If an action helps to tap into the rage of the par­tic­i­pants, it was pow­er­ful, even if it does not advance con­crete demands. But there can be a strate­gic and polit­i­cal­ly essen­tial role for emo­tion as well. I have been reflect­ing on this since the news that a Trau­ma Cen­ter will be opened on the South Side.”

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This reflec­tion is com­ing at an oppor­tune time. We have a vic­to­ry to share with you all. After years of resis­tance to activist demands, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago final­ly agreed to put up $40 mil­lion to extend emer­gen­cy med­ical care on the South Side, and open a Lev­el 1 Trau­ma Cen­ter. This is the goal of this coali­tion: to cre­ate an adult, Lev­el 1 Trau­ma Cen­ter. There are issues with the terms of this vic­to­ry, but it is a major vic­to­ry all the same – one that we cel­e­brate.

With that said, there is a cer­tain dif­fi­cul­ty in writ­ing about the trau­ma cen­ter cam­paign from the per­spec­tive of cam­pus activism. While the demand for trau­ma care on the South Side of Chicago has been pri­mar­i­ly tar­get­ed at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago (where we were stu­dents), the demand itself did not orig­i­nate from with­in the Uni­ver­si­ty.

The cam­paign began when Dami­an Turn­er, a teenage lead­er in Fear­less Lead­ing by the Youth, sus­tained gun­fire wounds mere blocks from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago hos­pi­tal. But he was treat­ed at North­west­ern Memo­ri­al Hos­pi­tal on the north­ern end of down­town Chicago, and he died with­in 90 min­utes of arriv­ing there. Oth­er youth at FLY start­ed ask­ing a very sim­ple ques­tion: Why couldn’t he be treat­ed at the world-class hos­pi­tal across the street? Turn­ing that grief to rage, and rage to action, is what began and sus­tained the move­ment to this point.

Stu­dents were asked to join the cam­paign a few months after its incep­tion because of the strate­gic vision: build­ing a large coali­tion capa­ble of bring­ing suf­fi­cient pub­lic pres­sure on the Uni­ver­si­ty to open a Lev­el 1 Trau­ma Cen­ter. After the University’s ini­tial refusal to meet with com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers, we orga­nized let­ter-writ­ing cam­paigns and phonathons. In respon­se to third par­ty research prov­ing the need for a Trau­ma Cen­ter on the South Side, we held town halls with mass atten­dance. And, as the Uni­ver­si­ty con­tin­ued to deny its respon­si­bil­i­ty to provide this care – despite mas­sive tax breaks already in place for this speci­fic pur­pose – we engaged in direc­tion actions, includ­ing halt­ing work on a con­struc­tion site for a $700 mil­lion new hos­pi­tal build­ing.

Our ini­tial role, as Stu­dents for Health Equi­ty, was to acti­vate oth­er stu­dents. The sim­plic­i­ty of this man­date dis­guis­es its prac­ti­cal com­plex­i­ty. Stu­dent involve­ment, while strate­gi­cal­ly essen­tial, car­ried the pos­si­bil­i­ties of dis­plac­ing the voic­es of the most affect­ed com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and redi­rect­ing the demands to be more palat­able to our stu­dent base.

We are offer­ing our reflec­tions here because this series is about stu­dent activism, and we were stu­dent activists. We don’t intend to speak on behalf of the coali­tion – a line we maneu­vered through­out the cam­paign. We hope our reflec­tions on those expe­ri­ences can be of aid to oth­er stu­dents tak­ing on this work.

Michael: on emo­tion.

In moments when the Left is in retreat, there is a ten­den­cy among activists to con­cep­tu­al­ize pol­i­tics as a “psy­chother­a­peu­tic activ­i­ty.” If an action helps to tap into the rage of the par­tic­i­pants, it was pow­er­ful, even if it does not advance con­crete demands. But there can be a strate­gic and polit­i­cal­ly essen­tial role for emo­tion as well. I have been reflect­ing on this since the news that a Trau­ma Cen­ter will be opened on the South Side; I wasn’t able to ver­bal­ize the news over the phone with­out chok­ing back tears.

The deaths of Dami­an and count­less oth­ers have con­tribut­ed to a deep sense of loss and indig­na­tion among trau­ma cen­ter activists about the poor access to trau­ma care on the South Side. How­ev­er, the frame of the cam­paign con­tra­dicts the pre­vail­ing nar­ra­tive through which Chicagoans are encour­aged to under­stand and feel about the city’s vio­lence.

While insti­tu­tions from church­es to uni­ver­si­ties respond with calls to “stop the vio­lence” through moral renewal or behav­ioral adjust­ment pro­grams for the poor, the trau­ma cen­ter cam­paign politi­cizes the vio­lence. It iden­ti­fies the caus­es of crime in poor neigh­bor­hoods as the racist poli­cies of city lead­er­ship and refusal to provide equi­table access to vital resources like health care. It chal­lenges the nar­ra­tive of the deserv­ing and unde­serv­ing and autho­rizes rage at neglect­ful, racist insti­tu­tions like the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago and city gov­ern­ment – and, even the log­ic of cap­i­tal­ism, as the uni­ver­si­ty mobi­lized the sup­posed finan­cial loss it would suf­fer by treat­ing trau­mat­ic injuries of poor, unin­sured patients to jus­ti­fy deny­ing care.

Part of how stu­dents and FLY oper­at­ed in coali­tion was that stu­dents work­ing on the cam­paign adopt­ed the same emo­tion­al and polit­i­cal frame to under­stand our activism and tried to con­vey that urgen­cy to the cam­pus at large. That is not to say we all had the same emo­tions, but that, through ongo­ing efforts to build sol­i­dar­i­ty, stu­dents came to see the appro­pri­ate respon­se as anger. There was a time when I had dreams about peo­ple I knew dying in dri­ve-by shoot­ings. This emo­tion­al work was key to over­com­ing the ambiva­lence many of us ini­tial­ly felt at tak­ing direct action again­st the uni­ver­si­ty where we stud­ied.

In one impor­tant action, a group of brave, com­mit­ted FLY mem­bers and stu­dent activists shut down a uni­ver­si­ty con­struc­tion site by chain­ing them­selves to the fence, lock­ing arms, and block­ing the sup­ply truck entrance. They were immo­bi­lized for hours, and one con­struc­tion work­er attempt­ed to “smoke them out” by back­ing up a truck into their faces, spew­ing black pol­lu­tion, leav­ing the engine on, and walk­ing away while uni­ver­si­ty police idled by. It wasn’t that this real­ly shocked me (not much could at this point), but I was infu­ri­at­ed by it. When I brought it up lat­er in my role as Pres­i­dent of the stu­dent body, I was a lit­tle stunned when a high lev­el admin­is­tra­tor – who I think of as a good per­son – sim­ply refused to believe that this had hap­pened.

It struck me that her own emo­tion­al iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the insti­tu­tion made her naive to such a casu­al abuse of pow­er. The cam­pus cul­ture val­ues the per­for­mance of “ratio­nal argu­ment” and dis­miss­es protests as con­tra­dict­ing the University’s high val­ues of “free and open dis­course.” Imped­ing con­struc­tive dis­course, though, are the kinds of iden­ti­fi­ca­tions we adhere to, like nation­al­ism or racism, that sep­a­rate us from the human and emo­tion­al imme­di­a­cy of oth­er people’s suf­fer­ing. From there, it is easy to dis­miss the equal right of oth­ers to safe­ty and health care. It is the insis­tent man­i­fes­ta­tion of rage, the con­tin­u­ous sham­ing of the Uni­ver­si­ty, the emo­tion­al mobi­liza­tion, that final­ly brought a Trau­ma Cen­ter to the South Side.

Gabrielle: on mem­ber­ship, on Black­ness.

“In 7th grade our teacher told us, only 1 out of 8 of you will make it. The rest gonna end up in jail or dead.” 

– Dar­ius “Das” Light­foot, com­mu­ni­ty lead­er with Fear­less Lead­ing by the Youth

Das shared the­se words when we were pre­sent­ing togeth­er at a church in Chicago’s his­tor­i­cal­ly Black Bronzeville neigh­bor­hood. In that moment, I real­ized that, as an African-Amer­i­can stu­dent at Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago, my Black­ness is cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent than Das’ Black­ness.

Das’ teach­ers told him he was doomed. That’s not what my teach­ers told me. My Black­ness inspired dif­fer­ent rhetoric – I was told col­leges would pur­sue me because I was unique, praised in class­rooms for my “diverse” per­spec­tive, high­light­ed as the (mul­ti­eth­nic) brand of lead­er­ship that would guide Amer­i­ca into the future.

This cam­paign was cat­alyzed by the death of a friend and lead­er, Dami­an Turn­er. Thus, its roots are inti­mate­ly per­son­al and emo­tion­al. In a cam­paign as intense­ly per­son­al as this, what is our entry point as stu­dents, as out­siders? In the Saul Alin­sky style of orga­niz­ing in which SHE matured, we asked our­selves: What is our self-inter­est?

I thought, as a Black mem­ber of the stu­dent con­tin­gent of the cam­paign, that my self-inter­est was eas­i­ly embod­ied as “racial sol­i­dar­i­ty.” As we were recruit­ing more stu­dents, I thought that, if we had more Black bod­ies, it would bring greater authen­tic­i­ty to our invest­ment in the cam­paign, make us immune from cri­tiques of White Sav­ior­ism or igno­rance, and enable us to match the inti­ma­cy com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ers brought to this effort.

We are both Black, but I can­not pre­tend to “own” Das’s expe­ri­ence of Black­ness. I don’t claim an inti­ma­cy with the aban­don­ment he’s expe­ri­enced, and now, 4,000 miles away as a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Oxford, the lack of ade­quate trau­ma care on the South Side doesn’t direct­ly impact me, even though I’m Black. If racial sol­i­dar­i­ty is my moti­va­tor, then it is not enough to claim mem­ber­ship in this com­mu­ni­ty of Black com­mu­ni­ty activists just because I’m Black; instead, I must rede­fine self. I must put in the work to become a part of the coali­tion, a part of the com­mu­ni­ty.

Now, my self-inter­est comes from per­son­al invest­ment in the indi­vid­u­als we orga­nize alongside. My invest­ment is sig­ni­fied by the warmth I feel when hear­ing Veron­i­ca, a com­mu­ni­ty lead­er with FLY, is in a lov­ing rela­tion­ship with her part­ner; and, in my anger when Tori, a bril­liant and brave lead­er, takes a leave of absence from col­lege because she was denied funds from finan­cial aid. I am invest­ed in their lives, in build­ing their strength, just as I am invest­ed in what this cam­paign rep­re­sents.

And so, as I searched for an entry point into a right­eous­ly emo­tion­al cam­paign, rela­tion­ships became my moti­va­tion. When con­sid­er­ing my self-inter­est in this cam­paign for a Trau­ma Cen­ter, I define “self” col­lec­tive­ly, based on rela­tion­ships. By build­ing rela­tion­ships, I came to under­stand my role as part of a broad­er com­mu­ni­ty – the trau­ma cen­ter coali­tion.

Gabrielle Newell is a native of Wash­ing­ton, DC and a grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Oxford. 

Michael McCown joined the trau­ma cen­ter cam­paign while intern­ing at South­side Togeth­er Orga­niz­ing for Pow­er in the sum­mer of 2011, after his first year at UChicago. He was a co-founder of Stu­dents for Health Equi­ty, which became the stu­dent wing of the Trau­ma Cen­ter Coali­tion. He grad­u­at­ed in 2014 and cur­rent­ly orga­nizes for the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers.
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Authors of the article

is a writer and activist, originally from New Haven, Connecticut. He edits the Nation's "Student Dispatch."

hails from Macon, Georgia, and is currently serving as a Fulbright Fellow in Ilorin, Nigeria.