Protesters march away from the Campus Center during the #thethreepercent rally on Tufts campus on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Students organized to protest anti-Black racism on Tufts' campus and other college campuses across the U.S. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

Tufts students join nationwide protests against campus racism

Approximately 200 Tufts students, many of whom walked out of classes, marched to Porter Square yesterday afternoon to demonstrate in solidarity with student protesters across the country who have been demanding that colleges do more to combat racism on their campuses and in their policies. The organizers of the event, identifying themselves as #thethreepercent in a statement released Tuesday night, planned the demonstration jointly with students at Harvard University as part of a “National Day of Action.” During the event, organizers outlined a list of demands concerning the treatment of Black students and faculty members at Tufts.

“We will not stand by as White supremacy attacks our bodies through racist policing and threats of violence, our minds through minimalist and altogether misguided educations that fail to address our history, and our communities through a deprioritization of Black students on college campuses,” the statement read.

Tufts students, many of whom wore black, gathered outside Barnum Hall yesterday around 3:30 p.m. Students then marched from Barnum Hall to the Mayer Campus Center chanting “Out of the dorm, into the streets,” singing along to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” (2015) and holding signs with such phrases as “Hear my Black voice” and “We are the three.”

At the Campus Center organizers read aloud the statement released Tuesday night.

“Recently, we, the Black students at Tufts University, have been overwhelmed with anger, sadness and pain at the violation of the humanity and dignity of Black students throughout college campuses across America,” the organizers read. “To those students, faulty, administrators and others who refuse to act: your silence is as political as our action — it is compliance with oppression.”

The statement expressed solidarity with protests on campuses such as the University of Missouri (Mizzou), Yale University and Claremont McKenna College. “To the thousands of students protesting across the country, keep fighting,” the organizers said. “We at Tufts see you. We feel you. We respect and love you and your continued commitment to resistance. We intend to stand in solidarity with you, not only in sentiment, but through action.”

The organizers then read a list of demands of the university administration, which included increasing the percentage of Black-identifying undergraduate students and the percentage of Black full-time and part-time faculty to 13 percent.

According to an April 25 Boston Globe article, only three percent of students at Tufts, Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Northeastern University are Black.

In a 2013 report released by the Council on Diversity, the university revealed that, in 2012, three percent of full-time male faculty members and three percent of full-time female faculty members at Tufts were Black/African-American. Black/African-American faculty made up two percent of both male part-time faculty and female part-time faculty. In 2003, seven percent of the undergraduate population identified as Black; however, by 2012 that number had fallen to four percent.

Other student demands included improved mental health care for Black students; an end to increased police surveillance of predominately Black events; better infrastructure for helping undocumented, international and first-generation students transition to life at Tufts; a 25 percent increase in the Africana Center budget, as well as enhanced student agency in the operations of the center; clarified commitment to holding the university accountable for discriminatory practices against student activism; and improved transparency about the demographics of students, academic departments and professors. In addition, the organizers demanded that university administrators, in the case that they are unable to comply with any of the mentioned demands, issue a public statement explaining their reasons for non-compliance.

Protesters then marched from the university campus through Davis Square and toward Porter Square, chanting phrases such as “Tufts doesn’t give a fuck. Now we’ve got to fuck it up,” “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” and “One, two, three. Support the three!” At least 10 Somerville Police Department officers followed the protesters on their march, but the officers declined to comment about the reason for their presence. Also following the march were legal observers, apparently trained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who were there to document police activity in the event that a conflict between protesters and police arose. Around 4:45 p.m., Tufts protesters arrived at the Porter Square T station, where they joined about 200 demonstrators from Harvard University and the surrounding community.

Several rally leaders stood on a ramp outside the station and spoke with megaphones to address the crowd. One Tufts student spoke on behalf of Black students at Tufts about the demands outlined by the #thethreeperecent protesters for the administration.

“We, the Black students of Tufts University, united under the name #thethreeperecent, have come together to demand that Tufts address our treatment as second class citizens by the university,” the student said. “The three percent refers not only to our underrepresentation here as undergraduate students but also to the same numerical underrepresentation that we have with Tufts faculty.”

The student added that the demands are not comprehensive, but reflect the voices of past students of color at Tufts.

“We have been silenced, forgotten, heard and ignored,” the student said. “Imprinted into this page is the ink of the student activists that came before us to this campus, whose work was never translated into grade point averages on a transcript … These are our words, these are our truths, these are our demands.”

Another speaker, Tufts junior Jonathan Moore, performed one of his poems to the crowd. “[The revolution] comes to us sounding like an echo, and we know that universities are not intended to produce Black people that love themselves, but today, we produce for nobody but our bodies,” Moore said. “And you can cite that shit!”

Another Tufts student spoke about the history of Black students at Tufts since 1909, when the first Black student graduated from the university. According to the student, there are 68 Black first-year students, making up five percent of the Class of 2019, which has 1,360 students.

“There are 68 Black bodies in the freshman class,” the student said. “Sixty-eight! Ponder that number. In a class that is the largest and richest in its history.”

Student speakers from Harvard expressed solidarity with Tufts protesters in their call for administrative changes. One student led the crowd in singing choruses of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round,” a freedom song from the civil rights movement.

Following the Porter Square demonstration, many of the protesters marched back to Harvard to engage in a visioning session at the Harvard College Student Organization Center at Hilles (SOCH), a safe space for people of color, according to the Facebook event page.

One Tufts student, Jahlyn Hayes, explained that he had attended the demonstration in solidarity with people he knows at Mizzou.

“I’m here because I have friends who go to Mizzou,” Hayes, a first-year, said. “They had to stay off campus for days because they felt so threatened, they feared for their lives. That’s why I’m here. Because racism isn’t just a college thing to fight for. It’s a real problem everywhere — it still is. I’m here for my friends at Mizzou ’cause it’s just not right.”

Tufts student Rachel Cognata, who also attended yesterday’s action, said it was great to be a part of the demonstration.

“As one person, I can’t do much,” Cognata, a senior, said. “I’m here because we need to act as a collective if we want to change anything — not just Black people either. It’s important for solving issues of race, as it’s important for coming together over other issues … It’s what’s necessary to bring about change.”

Executive Director of Public Relations Kim Thurler and Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas were unable to provide the Daily with comment as of press time.

For more coverage of the national #StudentBlackOut demonstrations, read this aggregation in The Guardian.

Liam Knox, Abigail Feldman and Lancy Downs contributed reporting to this article. 

  • literably

    From Barnum to Bailey

  • Albino Squirrel

    “we know that universities are not intended to produce Black people that love themselves,”

    well, that’s not a fact – sounds like your own attitudes are keeping you down.

  • Nick Bauer

    Has the paper attempted to analyze admissions data for Tufts? Given the states and cities that Tufts students are drawn from, what percentage of each racial/ethnic category would be expected? If Tufts draws primarily from New England, 3% may not be that unexpected, given Census data: http://datamapper.geo.census.gov/map.html

  • Kristen

    So I’m guessing that none of the three percent have twitter accounts?? I’m happy to see diversity among the Tufts students responding to the protest, but why are none of the tweets in this article from students that make up the 3%?

  • Les Enfants de Marx et de Cola

    I am really curious about why they want to increase the budget of Africana Center. Is it lower than other centers (Women’s Center, LGBTQ Center etc.)? Where can I find this information?

  • jumBBlack

    As a Black engineering student, I think it is hypocritical that these protesters think that they can speak on my behalf, when they are some of the same people that are hypersensitive to cultural appropriation and identity theft. Also, they are racist themselves but they think that because they are black, they cannot be racist. Faculty are faculty. Black faculty should not have an advantage over white faculty. If they are not qualified to teach here, then they are not qualified. Of course implicit bias is a deep and troubling concern. Once I show up for job interviews, I know I am at a disadvantage because of my skin color. But we should not see skin or give me special privilege because I am black, just like whites should not have special privilege over me.

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