When The Students at Geneseo Became The Teachers

In yet another startling showcase of racism at Geneseo, what was likely a coordinated effort by a group of white students resulted in two beautiful Black Lives Matter paintings being defaced on campus. On Thursday night, however, they were met by the inspiring, empowering, and loving group of Geneseo students brought together by the efforts of (though not limited to): Vanesa Argueta, Madison Centeno, Alyssa Cruz, Irene Esadah, Azul Escalera, Neo Nxumalo, Jaelyn R. D., Omar Taha, Tori Tripp and Idongesit Umoh (ID). 

For those that are unaware, on Wednesday, Nov. 18 at night the paintings on the Sturges Quad tree and North Side rock that recognized and memorialized the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the unjust murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were painted over. What students awoke to the next morning were tasteless, unwelcome displays of right-winged rhetoric. Both the tree and rock now displayed messages of “USA,” “God Bless America” and “USMC.” In a show of disgusting irony, the black backgrounds of the original paintings were replaced with white. 

Let’s immediately make this clear: the repainting is not a display of patriotism—it is the complete opposite. The pride shown in these new paintings is not American pride but white pride. While one may initially see this as a simple tribute to the military, I urge you to consider the context of the situation, or as HC’s very own Margaux Carmel has said, “read the room.” Artwork commemorating Veterans Day could have been painted anywhere, yet the painters chose to cover up not one but two of the only BLM paintings on campus that have stood the entire semester. This act demonstrates an alignment with those who constantly invalidate and dismiss the racism in our country. It seeks to celebrate an America that overlooks Black folx and puts white people, always, at the forefront. The United States needs no more celebration, it needs change.

Geneseo released their attempt at a polished statement regarding the issue on Thursday in a campus-wide email. While saying that these acts are so heinous it was “[difficult to write any statement that expresses] the true gravity and harm caused by this event,” it is apparently not important enough to mention any seekings of retribution against those who committed them. The email ends with a message urging students to “reimagine” what this college stands for and to move forward. Except, this college does not exist in our imagination—its harm is real. Its racism is real. The students who defaced the paintings are real, walking anonymously among us and away from the situation without so much as a warning. It is once again up to the students to demand for the change they’ve been told would be given to them as we “work towards being antiracist.” The burden of mindful action once again not only fell upon the students shoulders, but BIPOC students. These students composed an inspiring protest in what was probably less time than it took the college to write one email

A BIPOC-led Black Lives Matter protest occurred Thursday night on the College Green that adhered to COVID-19 safety guidelines. An innumerable amount of students came to show their support for an event planned in just three hours. The leadership exhibited by the organizers was strong and the message of the protest was clear: repaint the rock (as the tree was already repainted) and make your voice heard. Through the walkways of campus to the streets of Geneseo, the line was so long it wrapped around the entire circumference of South Side, and then some. It ended back where it began and with a powerful reiteration of the protest’s main message: Black Lives Matter.

While it is reassuring that the Office of the President released a statement in support of the protests the following morning, I think everyone would like to see greater change and community support than what has so far just been words in an email. The institution of SUNY Geneseo deserves no credit for the well-remembered event that occured Thursday night. The students and above all the organizers do. Please listen to what they have to say: 

 

Vanesa Argueta: “This was my first BLM protest I had ever been to. Watching videos of them striking all throughout quarantine and not being able to attend built a type of energy in me that I was finally able to express in this march. The turn out of the event was so much more than what any of us had imagined it would be. Losing my voice to chants that echoed through the campus with my peers was something I’ll never forget. This is only one protest of many to come, and I’m so pumped for the next one coming soon.”
Neo Nxumalo: “This wasn't my first protest, and I hope that it won't be my last. What I loved the most about it was the energy that was brought and the unwavering confidence that we had in ourselves. Shouting the words "No Justice, No Peace" in unison gave me hope. It made me feel like, even in the middle of the night, everyone was wide awake, listening to us and silently cheering us on.”
Jaelyn R. D.:“Last night can’t even be described in words honestly; the pictures say it all. Although this wasn’t my first protest, this was my first time helping organize one, but honestly the protest wouldn’t have been as grand as it was without the people. Seeing everyone come out late on a school night under such short notice was truly profound. I still feel the energy and the power from last night. Everyone who came really made a difference. We had people who brought water, snacks, posters, and microphones. You honestly had to be there to believe it!”
Abigail George: "When I heard and saw what had happened to the tree and rock, I automatically felt disgusted and angry. I was upset to see the memorials of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd ruined by the ignorance of other students and they have received no punishment for it. But the way the community came together last night really gave me hope that we can make changes on this campus. I honestly did not expect that many people to come and it blew my mind! I was so happy and proud to see that the BIPOC community does have allies here on campus and off campus as well. People who will fight alongside us for justice and what is right. As a freshman here at Geneseo, I am so glad I was able to help Tori, ID, Alyssa and many others organize this event. It is rewarding to know that we won't back down and we will never be silenced by the act of hate. I look forward to doing many more things like last night throughout my next three years here at SUNY Geneseo and to make a change with those around me to make a better and safe community, especially for the BIPOC community.”

 

Thank you to the organizers of this event (and soon to be more). The work that you are doing is important, valued, and seen. SUNY Geneseo, learn from your students.