More than 400 people, including Tufts students, joined the Boston University (BU) “Blackout: Mizzou We Stand With You” solidarity rally held last Friday afternoon. The event follows weeks of protest over escalating racial tensions and threats of violence toward students of color at the University of Missouri (Mizzou).
Mizzou made national headlines last week after the university’s president, Timothy Wolfe, resigned amid controversy about the treatment of race and racism on campus. Student activists, many of whom were members of a group called Concerned Student 1950 — named after the year the university first began admitting black students — said their repeated requests for administrators to investigate allegations of racism had been ignored. The Mizzou football team boycotted practices and one graduate student, Jonathan Butler, began a hunger strike, refusing to eat until Wolfe stepped down. The protests at Mizzou coincide with numerous similar controversies emerging on college campuses around the United States.
Around 3 p.m. on Nov. 13, students marched in from the east and west sides of the BU campus to congregate at the Marsh Plaza, chanting phrases such as, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “M-I-Z-Z-O-U.” Many attendees wore black to demonstrate their solidarity.
Several students, including transfer student from Mizzou and current BU sophomore Yasmin Younis, spoke to the crowd.
“I am in awe of the support and the solidarity Mizzou has been receiving nationwide,” Younis said. “It’s not just in the Midwest; it’s not just in Columbia, Missouri. It’s happening everywhere.’’
BU junior TeAndrea Jackson, who organized the rally with BU junior Grace Kim, talked about the importance of standing in solidarity with students facing racism and threats of violence at Mizzou.
“To the students of color at Mizzou, we, the students of color at Boston University, stand with you in solidarity,” she said. “To students of color — to people of color everywhere — we stand with you.”
Jackson declared that racism at colleges, including at Mizzou, Howard University and BU, must end.
“Today we say, ‘Enough is enough,'” she said. “We live here; we matter.”
According to BU junior Rhyver White, who helped lead the march to Marsh Plaza, the hundreds of rally attendees included students and alumni from BU, Tufts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as people affiliated with colleges as far away as Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. At press time, Tufts students who attended the rally either declined or did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
“I’m in awe at the turnout,” White said. “This isn’t the first time that we’ve had something like this at BU in regards to race relations and race issues in America, and I don’t think that it’s ever been as successful as this. A lot of people walked out of class and came to this, so that’s something that I’m really proud [of].”
Jackson explained that she decided to organize the rally to unify people against the racism at Mizzou and elsewhere.
“When I planned this event, it [was] to show students who were feeling the pain and strife of recent events…that they weren’t alone,” she said. “There have been people who’ve said, you know, you should get over it, [that] it’s not that big a deal … But it is a big deal, and it continues to be a big deal that racial discrimination and racial prejudice is still rampant in this country.”
Jackson said she was heartened by the number of people who attended the rally and by the support and solidarity from people all over the country.
“We can’t quit, and I was so damn proud of all the people who felt the same way, who just needed an event to unite us all on the same front, and just so happy that so many people came and showed their support even [if] they weren’t here,” she said. “I have friends from home, people from all over the country, who are saying, ‘I’m wearing black, and I’m thinking of you, and I’m praying for you.'”
Following the rally at the plaza, rally attendees gathered at BU’s Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground to discuss systemic racism in relation to the events at Mizzou.
“The discussion [was] mostly to talk about the system and how it works, or how it hasn’t been working,” Jackson said. “What’s happening in Missouri needs to be talked about and it is being talked about, but we need to know about what’s going on in the everyday classroom — how BU has three percent black students, so nine times out of 10 you’re the only black student in that class. And we need to talk about how, even though we have been integrated, we still feel marginalized.”
Boston Police Department (BPD) and Boston University Police Department (BUPD) officers were present throughout the duration of the rally. Jackson said she had called on police to be on duty after she and others received threats.
“We asked for the police to be here because when we have events like this, there is always a possibility that there will be counter-protestors, and there is always the possibility that there will be violent counter-protestors,” she said. “We’ve had several threats, even [Friday] morning, and so the police were here for us, to protect us.”
These threats are not the first instance of interference at BU solidarity events concerning race. This past summer, preceding a vigil to honor the nine people killed in a June 17 racially motivated shooting in a Charleston, S.C. church, an unknown person put up posters in support of the killer, Dylann Roof. The posters, hung up around campus, said “I Support Roof.”
Jackson said she was happy that no counter-protestors were present at Friday’s rally.
“It just makes me so happy that none of that happened today because…this not about politics,” she said. “This is solely about solidarity and unity and showing the people all over the country…that we are here and [that] we will continue this fight and we will link our arms and we will walk beside you.”
Earlier that week, on Nov. 11, Tufts students hosted their own solidarity event. Students gathered in the Crane Room for a conversation about the circumstances at Mizzou and about the silencing of black voices at institutions of higher education. According to the Facebook event, titled “REAL TALK: #TuftsWithMizzou,” the conversation organizers — seven Tufts students — planned to draft a letter to students at Mizzou. At press time, the organizers had not released a public comment about the event.
“How do we support one another?” the event description read. “How do we support the students at Mizzou going through this? What does our resistance look like on our own campus? Come have an open conversation about how our voices and our presence on and off this campus is constantly silenced in these institutions and how what is happening in Mizzou could easily happen to us, right here at Tufts.”
Two days later — the day of the rally — University President Anthony Monaco sent an email to the Tufts community to address the impact of the Mizzou protests at Tufts. Monaco wrote that the state of affairs at Mizzou showed that colleges must demonstrate their dedication to furthering inclusion and diversity on campus.
“I ask that each of us do our part in creating a university where people of diverse backgrounds do not just coexist, but thrive and learn with and from one another,” he wrote.
Monaco said overt and subtle expressions of racism that have affected students on campus reflect deeper racial tensions in the country. He added that he, with the university, has worked to make campus a more diverse and inclusive environment, using the President’s Council on Diversity and the 2013 Diversity Report it produced to take informed steps toward improving campus climate, such as hiring the new Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas earlier this year.
“As a community, we must stand together against such [racist] behavior; we must support students who are targeted by bigotry and ignorance; and we must all continue to have regular, frank, and difficult discourse about issues of race and power through our academic and community activities,” he wrote.
At the BU rally, White said she hopes the demonstration will promote more conversations about racism at BU and around the nation.
“I think it’s just another step toward, hopefully, a bigger, larger conversation that our president can get involved in and other people of higher power can get involved in,” she said.
Gina Physic, who recently earned her masters degree at BU, said that it was empowering to see so many people of color coming together in support of Mizzou.
“You have the opportunity to take the reins and take charge in a way in 2015 that matters just like it did [during the civil rights movement], and so that’s why for me it’s a very big deal to make sure that I’m present and that I’m active,” she said. “Making sure that the people who are trying to be on the right side of history can do that is a really big thing for me.”
Derrick Monteiro, a BU sophomore, said that while he felt the rally was successful, he hopes that more conversations and tangible changes will follow it.
“Race isn’t something that’s talked about enough,” he said. “[What happened in Mizzou], I think it’s disgusting.”
Kembo Matungulu, a BU junior, said people often disregard and invalidate the hardships that black people face by arguing, for example, that an “all lives matter” focus should replace the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
“No one wants to check their privilege,” she said. “You don’t know what we [as black people] have been through.”
White added that the rally came at a pivotal time.
“This happened at another university, but at the same time…we deal with being silenced here, and it’s not gonna happen here,” she said. “We’re not going to continue to allow it to happen here … Everyone talks about how they wish that they could’ve been a part of the civil rights movement…and the time really is now.”