Photo credit: Rob Ferrell, Office of Communications
On December 11th, dozens of Goucher students lay in front of the entrances of the academic buildings in order to bring attention to the recent events that had occurred around the country; particularly the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Both men were killed by police officers, neither of whom were convicted. Both Brown and Garner were black while the police officers were white. The deaths caused conversation across the country about race, police force and police brutality.
The protest followed the final decision of the Eric Garner case. Eric Garner was held in an illegal chokehold by NYPD officers, which killed him. Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer involved in the altercation, was not indicted. It also followed a similar case where eighteen-year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer, despite the fact that Brown was unarmed at the time.
The protest, called a “die-in,” was organized by Robert Fletcher ’16. Similar protests had taken place across the country. Fletcher said he “felt the need to organize this because tensions amongst the student body had reached a boiling point and the climate of this campus needed to be shifted.” He explained that he and other students of color had experienced racism on Goucher’s campus that needed to be stopped.
Other students who participated in the event shared Fletcher’s feelings. Nakpangi Ali ’17 said that she felt the purpose of the event was to “bring attention to and acknowledge the fact that people in our society have different relationships with the legal and judicial systems.”
Jordan Johnson ’18 said, “We just wanted to stand in solidarity with the rest of the colleges and say that we support eradicating police brutality…So I felt a great need to participate in that.”
During the protest, some students went around drawing chalk outlines around the students, and another passed out slips of paper with statistics written on them. Occasionally they would yell, “I can’t breathe,” or “Can’t you see that he is choking?” in reference to Garner’s death. Students who did not participate in the protest either watched the event take place or attempted to walk through the crowd in order to attend class.
Fletcher said, “We needed to be somewhere that people could not avoid us, day to day racism happens on this campus and students of color are unable to avoid it. This campus needed to be forced to acknowledged what is going on in the world.” Jordan Johnson received “a lot of negative comments.” She also said, “The Goucher community at times can be appreciative of the things we do but I also feel like they put us in boxes in order to say we can’t voice our opinions…So, sometimes I feel that while the Goucher community is liberal…They don’t understand how this can be a struggle for me every single day.”
The protests came as a surprise to the other students on campus, as they were not told that either one would be happening. During the first protest for Michael Brown, many students participating tried to get others to join. During the second one, a group of students received an email informing them of the protest and asking them to join. A school-wide email was sent explaining what was happening, just as the protest begun.
The protest received mixed reactions from the school. While many students, particularly those who were involved, were proud of the number of students who participated, others complained. Some students were upset that the entrances were blocked and they had trouble getting to class.
Fletcher said, “It felt amazing to be apart of something that could cause real change, also I was happy to know that not only were black students feeling like their voices weren’t being heard but all students of color felt the same way.”
President Jose Bowen wrote an email that night that said he was “proud that our students decided to join with many other colleges across the nation to stage a protest yesterday. But I also respect the desire of some not to protest. I recognize that some protests will disturb or even offend other members of our community.” He held a talk that night where students could discuss racial issues on campus.
How the protest will affect Goucher’s campus has yet to be seen but it seems as though it has allowed for more dialogue to take place on campus. During the winter term, around a dozen students discussed diversity related issues that have an effect on the school, due to the tensions on campus. This semester is also Civil Rights themed due to 2015 being 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights act of 1965. The semester includes several Civil Rights courses, speakers and related events.