Smith Students Respond to Events at Mizzou

Photos by Carolyn Brown '16 | Left, Raven Fowlkes-Witten ’17 organized a walkout in front of the Campus Center on Nov. 11, during which students shared their reflections on race on Smith campus, right.

Photos by Carolyn Brown ’16 | Left, Raven Fowlkes-Witten ’17 organized a walkout in front of the Campus Center on Nov. 11, during which students shared their reflections on race on Smith campus, right.

Rachel Farber ’16
Assistant News Editor

On Nov. 11, students, faculty and staff participated in a student-organized walkout protesting the anti-black injustices on campuses across the country. The walkout took place on Chapin Lawn at noon, while scheduled classes finished at 12:10 p.m.

The walkout was organized by Raven Fowlkes-Witten ’17 after speaking with their friend at Ithaca College on Sunday night. “I was scared and worried for black and brown students at those schools and at others who probably felt very alone,” Fowlkes-Witten said. “I wanted it to be known that at the very least, Smith students care and won’t stand for injustice.”

Fowlkes-Witten organized the walkout mainly through Facebook, creating an event called “Smith Stands with Ithaca and Mizzou.” According to the event page, 602 people were invited online.

Between 50 and 100 people attended at different times, though other news sources claim the number was around 200. Fowlkes-Witten said they were pleased with the number of people who came to bear witness to racism on college campuses, including Smith. “But I do understand that 100 people isn’t enough,” they said. “The entire campus should be concerned, and it is a privilege that not all students are.”

Donna Lisker, Dean of the College, also attended. She said she found out about the walkout through an email that alerted her to the Facebook event. “I attended in order to listen to what Smith students have to say and to also support students at other schools struggling with these important issues,” she said. Also in attendance were members of the Residence Life professional staff, including Becky Shaw, Director of ResLife.

One student asked through the megaphone, “Who’s not here?” and other participants began asking the same question in a chant. This recognized that members of the community had not shown up in solidarity and that, due to institutional racism, there are people of color who cannot be at Smith. Those who spoke questioned student support, explaining that the ability to step back from conflict and to not engage was a privilege that students of color do not have.

Students at Smith are among those nationwide who are participating in protests, rallies, vigils and sit-ins in solidarity with black students who have organized to fight racial injustices on their campuses, giving special recognition to the black students at the University of Missouri, Ithaca College, Claremont McKenna College and Yale University.

Beginning on Nov. 12, student activists at Amherst College organized a sit-in at Frost Library both in solidarity with black students on other campuses and in response to racial injustices at Amherst. Hundreds of students participated. The Amherst Uprising Movement was formed and developed a list of demands. In addition, three students have declared a hunger strike. The sit-in continued through the weekend. Amherst College President Biddy Martin paused her trip en route to Japan in efforts to engage in discussion with a list of demands and concerns drafted by protestors on Nov. 13.

The most prominent campus organization right now, which has sparked organizing around the country, is the student activist group Concerned Student 1950 at the University of Missouri. It has organized several demonstrations, including boycotting purchases at the student center, boycotting football games, organizing sit-ins and supporting graduate student Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike. The group also supported the students of color on Mizzou’s football team who stopped playing until University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe resigned. The group’s name refers to the year the university admitted its first black student. In their list of demands, Concerned Student 1950 stated that it was responding not to isolated incidents, but to systemic racism and violence endured by black students on campus over the last 60 years.

One of the issues discussed at the walkout on Chapin Lawn on Wednesday was the lack of faculty support for black students and students of color at Smith, especially in the classroom, where often professors do not intervene when racist comments are made.

In their list of demands, Concerned Student 1950 demanded an increase in black faculty and staff to 10 percent (from about three percent) by the 2017-2018 academic year. Black/African American students make up only five percent of Smith’s student body, and information online does not differentiate between domestic students and international students. In addition, according to collegefactual.com, black/African American faculty members make up not even four percent of Smith’s tenured/tenured-track faculty.

According to an email sent to all students from Dwight Hamilton, chief diversity officer from the Office of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, his office is currently “focusing on improving diversity in our faculty and staff [and] making classrooms more inclusive for students.” Hamilton cited the office’s Campus Climate Survey, the centerpiece of a comprehensive new diversity and inclusion initiative to improve Smith’s engagement of all students, faculty and staff.

President Kathleen McCartney, who is currently on a two-week trip to Asia for Smith, stated by email that she felt “a deep sense of pride” when she found out about the walkout. “I appreciate that Smith students, along with many faculty and staff, are dedicated to improving inclusion, equity, and diversity at Smith and beyond,” she said. “I want students to know that my senior team and I will always be there to listen to them – always – so that we, as allies, can support student activism as well as take action to address their concerns.”

Students organized a sit-in in the Campus Center yesterday from 1 p.m. on Nov. 18 to midnight.  In addition, McCartney and Hamilton will be hosting a conversation in the Campus Center Carroll Room on Nov. 23 when she gets back from her trip.

3 Comments

  1. Questions from a Five Colleges graduate and a practicing journalist.

    Alyssa Mata-Flores is quoted by Masslive, saying that “We are asking that any journalists or press that cover our story participate and articulate their solidarity with black students and students of color.”

    Were those terms presented to you? Did this reporter and this publication agree to those terms to cover this story?

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