Issues of race and discomfort were prevalent on Goucher’s campus this past week in light of the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and students of color speaking out about racial issues on campus.
This past Monday, Dec. 1, over a hundred Goucher students marched around campus and into Towson to protest the Grand Jury’s decision to not indict Darren Wilson. The protest did not start out as such, though. It was originally intended to be a student-organized event where students were encouraged to walk out of their classes, jobs, dorm rooms, or wherever they were at 1pm and meet at the Chapel. This was part of a national walkout happening in communities across the country on Monday.
The event began with students, and also some faculty and staff members, gathered outside the chapel while students involved Umoja read a list of names of people of color who had been killed due to police brutality. While many of the students taking leadership roles in the event are involved in Umoja, the event was not organized by a specific group on campus; it was a product of students from various groups on campus coming together. There was a moment of silence that lasted four and a half minutes, as requested by Michael Brown’s family because it took the police four and a half hours to take his body after he was shot. Students who were moved to speak to the crowd had the opportunity to do so.
After about thirty minutes of standing outside the Chapel, Kevin Guzman ’16 encouraged students begin marching around campus. Students followed him, chanting things like, “hands up, don’t shoot,” “black lives matter,” and “no justice, no peace.” Jordan Leonard ’18 announced to everyone, “where is everyone else?” motivating the group to march and continue the protest into the academic buildings, encouraging students to leave classes and join in. Leonard later said, he didn’t feel support on campus from the students passing by the walkout, he wanted to take the protest “to the people who aren’t there, who aren’t listening.” Eventually the protest made its way into the Athenaeum, and off campus into Towson.
Abby Jones ’17, who was part of the group, explained that the protest marched through the Circle in Towson, past the circuit court and to Towson University. The protesters ended at the district court house, where they gathered around a fountain outside and continued chanting, had another moment of silence, said a few closing words. Jones found that the responses to the protest form the general public to be “fairly positive,” with a few negative instances. Throughout the protest off-campus, Dean of Students Brian Coker followed the group in his car to make sure that the students were safe.
Tuesday night, a follow-uconversation to the protest convened. Students, faculty members, staff, and president José Bowen were in attendance. Associate Provost LaJerne Cornish facilitated the conversation.
At the meeting, Monday’s protest and the voices of student of color on campus became pertinent. Anthony Perdue ’18, who said he came to Goucher to feel a sense of community, said that he did not feel supported after the protest, because other students on campus were devaluing the importance of the protest. “I don’t want to be made to feel that what black students do for empowerment are wrong,” he said. Robert Fletcher ’16, co-president of Umoja, said he has felt uncomfortable as a black student, hearing “flat out racist” remarks from white students, including use of the n-word. “There is a fundamental problem on this campus [of racism] and we need to address it,” Fletcher said.
In response to students feeling uncomfortable that classes had been disrupted during the protest, white student, Sammy Kaye ’17, who left class to join the protest, announced, “think about all those other people who feel so uncomfortable on a daily basis here. What kind of student fighting for equality would I be if I didn’t stand up and help?” Arthur Mutijima ’18, noted that as a student of color, “I’m not being catered to by the Goucher community,” and, “in order for that to happen we need to educate and have discourse about race.”
It was made clear that students of color feel uncomfortable at Goucher. Educating white people who are uninformed and misinformed about race was a critical part of this discussion. “It’s not up to people of color to educate people who look like me,” said Ailish Hopper, chair of the peace studies department, meaning that white people need to be proactive and use their privilege to educate themselves, not rely on people of color to do it for them. “It’s not okay that we don’t know,” said Fletcher, education is crucial. Nyasha Mooney-McCoy ’16 feels it’s not her job to correct everyone who says the n-word or racist comments. She added that she’s uncomfortable because “as students of color, we don’t have the strength in numbers that white students do.” Fletcher mentioned when he hears the n-word he has to “pick myself back up and treat you like a human, even though you’ve shown yourself to be less than human.”
Alexa McCoy ’16 made a point about the incorrect assumption that all black students “come from the same place [and] I hear white people talk all the time, whether or not I want to or not,” but she wants to hear from people who look like her. Rae Walker ’17 expressed sentiment that racism gets “swept under the rug” whenever people try to talk about it, and that the campus finds it easy to ignore racial issues.
A reason why students of color feel uncomfortable at Goucher is because they feel they have to change themselves to fit in. Marissa Charlemange ’16 feels she has “put aside myself to be the correct black person for white people in the room” and is “hurt by the way I’ve had to change who I am because of this campus.” Guzman feels that he has to “erase my identity,” and hates being told to “act white.”
A place where race is not being addressed properly is in connections. Denia Carter ’16, a peer facilitator, transferred here because she didn’t feel her previous school had a sense of community, but still doesn’t feel that this school is diverse. She noted feeling discomfort doing the privilege walk with other connections leaders because she was the only black person. “I’m willing to make change,” said Carter. First-year students alluded to connections and other first-year experiences where they felt uncomfortable because of their race, and it made them want to leave Goucher in certain instances.
Students of color are regularly forced to confront negative stereotypes. Jordan Johnson ‘18, said “I feel like I am commodity, like I am a quota here” and feels disconnected as a person of color. She said she doesn’t say her economic background because she doesn’t want people to assume things about here, “if I leave here, I have no home,” she added.
Alexa McCoy ’16, a leader in Umoja, said Umoja seen as a party club and not an organization. “We do so much more than party…so much more than what is stereotypical,” she said. She feels Umoja needs more support, specifically from black faculty members.
Penelope Durand ’16 noted the concentration of these conversations goes to white guilt. She said, “I feel that my voice is invalid,” and, to white people, “you will never understand what it’s like to be a person of color.”
Cornish ‘83, who is a Goucher alumna, spoke about her experience as a student of color at Goucher. She said when she was a freshman, there were only 9 students of color in her class, and the only employees of color were the dining and cleaning staff. “They told me to keep working hard because I wasn’t alone; they were walking with me, and as I look around this room, I don’t want it lost on you how far we’ve come…we’re better than we were… we’re not where we want to be…and if we leave here, we won’t get better, we’ll only regress….many of us [faculty] could not have been prouder of you for the noise we raised yesterday…there are times when you have to make some noise, don’t you forget it…this is a powerful moment tonight…despite your pain, we hear you, my colleagues and I , we hear you…I’m proud of everyone in this room tonight…It is time you exercise your power.”
Hopper prompted the students with skin privilege “to create a community where all students of color feel safe…feel loved, where white students get race privilege…if any white students want to take me up on that, wear me out.”
President Bowen concluded and thanked everyone for coming and for listening. He acknowledged that as a new president, he is still learning on the job. “I thought I knew the campus…I was wrong,” said Bowen.