Almost 200 Brandeis students, faculty and others marched in solidarity against violent and racist threats against African American student activists at the University of Missouri this Thursday, Nov. 12 also demanding more action from Brandeis administrators to address and condemn anti-black systems and incidents.
The protest was organized in under 24 hours by undergraduate and graduate students and student groups such as the Brandeis Black Student Organization (BBSO), and began at the Rabb Steps before marching to the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC). Once at the Campus Center, the marchers occupied the space for more than two hours, chanting, sharing personal experiences and calling on Brandeis to be active in change. Similar marches organized by BBSO have occurred at Brandeis annually, but Thursday’s event was notable for its attendance, passion and scope.
The event was announced at around 2 a.m. Thursday via a Facebook event, created in response to a “Call for Action” sent out by national activists on Wednesday. The event was created by undergraduates Student Union President Nyah Macklin ’16, Bethlehem Seifu Belaineh ’16, Jhanezia Stevens ’16 and Witney Christie ’17.
The call was a direct reaction to threats of violence made against African American student activists at the University of Missouri this week through social media, following weeks of anti-racism protests at the university that resulted in the resignation of University President Tim Wolfe. According to an article in the Thursday edition of The Los Angeles Times, University of Missouri campus police received dozens of phone calls about an anonymous message online threatening a mass shooting, specifically targeting black students. The shooting threats have since resulted in the arrest of a 19-year-old St. Louis man.
University of Missouri students have also reported anonymous white men driving through campus and shouting white supremacist slogans and racist slurs at students. Thursday’s march was a show of solidarity, as well as a means for black students at Brandeis and their allies to come together and show strength in the face of racist violence. “We are not afraid of your threats, and we are not afraid of your guns,” said Macklin in front of the crowd at Rabb. Union Vice President Dennis Hermida ’16 also expressed full support for the protest and recalled the 1969 Ford Hall protests at Brandeis, when black Brandeis students occupied Ford Hall, the current site of the SCC, and demanded a creation of an African American studies department.
While still on the Rabb Steps, Heller students Rima Chaudry, Christian Perry, Alex Montgomery and Maryse Pearce read the names of African American men and women killed in recent years by police around the country, including Michael Brown and Sandra Bland, as well as the names of trans women and gender-nonconforming people murdered this year. Chaudry then led the crowd in a call-and-response chant of a quote by black power activist Assata Shakur. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win,” the crowd shouted. “We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Other chants included “black lives matter” and “racism is nothing new, we stand with Mizzou,” among others, shouted by black students and their supporters until their voices were hoarse. Marchers also chanted the chorus to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.”
Upon reaching the SCC, the marchers were greeted with a message of support from Interim Director of the Intercultural Center Janae Johnson. They then sat on the floor and allowed for an open forum from students and anyone who wanted to speak in support of the event. Students expressed frustration at the systems of institutional racism and individual incidents, including being pulled over and intimidated by police, dealing with the incarceration of family and experiences with racism at Brandeis.
“This is an incredible event, but I’m also so frustrated that this is still what it takes just to prove that our lives matter,” said Justin Cates ’17. “I don’t care if they don’t know anymore. I know that we know our lives matter, and if you don’t like it, too bad.”
Black students also lamented that the Department of African and Afro-American Studies is “the only place on this campus” that discusses the black diaspora and issues that affect black students, calling for an increase in black faculty and further development of curriculum. White students who spoke expressed their hope that non-black students on campus would take their support beyond social media to help “dismantle systems of oppression.”
Khadijah Lynch ’16 spoke of her experience of being harassed with death threats and messages of assault by students and on-campus parties, after Brandeis student Daniel Mael ’15 published personal tweets of hers in an article on a conservative website. Lynch expressed her feelings of being unsafe at Brandeis and feeling abandoned by the university administration following the publication of the article, to raucous applause and cheers.
Dean of Students Jamele Adams also addressed the gathered protesters. “Thank you for being here and holding myself and others accountable,” Adams said. “This is our house, and you are our people, and I will continue to offer my ears and my voice.”
When Perry called the event to a close, a sense of unity and support was palpable in the SCC’s atrium. “This is not the last step,” said Chaudry. “We will keep building this movement until we get justice.”