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#WeOut: A Day Without Us

“When you see people as what they associate themselves with, you no longer see them as human beings.” – Eyana Walker, Current BSU President

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018, a man named Ben Shapiro came to campus, along with extra security, men in black uniforms and badges, volunteer townspeople and a surplus of townsfolk. Why so much traffic on Susquehanna University’s small campus? Because this man, Ben Shapiro, is a well known political commentator, a conservative known for his passionate podcasts and interviews, who was brought here to discuss Free Speech.

We have had swastikas on campus, hate speech written on sidewalks and being spoken on campus before. We’ve been told by officials and administration that “Hate Speech will not be tolerated on campus.” But this man was brought here and started his speech by reading aloud an open letter by one of my fellow students and co-writers on another platform, intermittently making fun of what this young man respectfully had to say. He, however, is not 100% the reason for this protest, but feel free to check out this link and listen to him speak. He was a factor. His presence was one factor among more to drive us into silence. Students who protested were silent for the entire day and wore all black.

I interviewed Eyana Walker, president of BSU, The Black Student Union, about this protest that they held. She stresses that BSU isn’t only for African Americans and Afro-Latino’s but is always open and welcoming to any marginalized peoples and anyone who feels as though they do not belong or have a safe place.

In asking her what inspired this protest and movement and she says:

“This protest was a direct response to Ben Shapiro’s presence here. But also, minority voices were tired of not being heard, so we silenced our voices. There’s a difference between hearing and listening. They hear us but they don’t listen. We made them squirm, the whole point was to give US back OUR power. People want you to react a certain way. When you react the way they want you to, you give them your power and they win the battle. Now they have power over your emotions.”

I have heard from many students who participated and even those who were scared to participate about how much this event meant to them. Eyana responded to this by saying:

“A ton of people came up to me saying that it meant a lot to them just being able to see other people supporting the same cause. It was empowering.”

Because she is the President of BSU, I asked if she feels like this event has changed campus’ views so far in the past two days. She answered, “I’ve felt a little more of an inclusive vibe.”

“How would you like to see campus change, Eyana?”

“I would like to see SU students be more accepting. I want to see administration act upon the words that they are saying. More programs need to be put in place to help the mind develop.”

Something Eyana said during this interview was, “Nobody knows that they are ignorant until someone tells them that they are ignorant. Nobody knows that they are a liar until someone tells them they are a lair. Nobody knows they are racist until someone says ‘Hey, that was a racist comment.'” When she said this, I really thought that it spoke to the reasoning behind this movement and the motivations to be silent.

Eyana is well known on campus for being a passionate, outspoken leader, even during this interview a student came up and hugged her for a while and when I asked her what her position means to her here on this campus, her passion was palpable. She says:

“Being President means to me, being a voice to those who can’t speak. I’m able to support others. Wednesday meetings, to me, mean coming together to unite as a unit in solidarity. It’s where people can come to know they are not alone. BSU gives me purpose, knowing I’m not alone and fighting for something bigger than me. I love my club.”

I also interviewed Genovee Dominguez, a history major here at SU who recently spoke at the Latino Symposium, but who is also a student well known for her activism for minority groups. She participated in this protest. 

“What inspired you to participate?”

“The key feature that made me feel the need to participate is a lack of understanding of the emotions of the marginalized groups on campus affected by the stance, politically, and opinions of Ben Shapiro.”

“How did you feel, as a minority woman, about the environment, created that day on campus by the speaking event?”

“We need to look at the speakers who create a dangerous environment. Maybe if it were a less aggressive speaker, we would have been more comfortable. It was a reinforcement of the inherent biases that continuously oppress and harm marginalized individuals to prevent them from wanting to stay on this campus.”

I asked her the same question I asked Eyana about what she thinks needs to be changed here and Genovee answered, “It’s not just more education on what happens to marginalized individuals, but we need to educate on the experiences and feelings on what the systems and rules are doing: breaking us down as people.”

In our discussion, Genovee, as a history major who studies racial theory, said:

“This is racial theory. If you look at phenomenology, which is how like emotions and feelings are brought into society and intertwined in life, you understand that human beings have different experiences due to many different factors. Looking under Ta-Nehisi Coates’, ‘Between the World and Me,’ is a perfect example. A lot of people live under this concept known as ‘The dream’. The dream is the concept that everything’s okay. Because we had Barack Obama, because we had a black president, we have no racism. Because the civil rights act was passed, we’re not segregated. However, we, as a country, have never been more segregated in our areas.”

We discussed marginalization and how systematic racism affects marginalized groups for a while, affecting how minorities and marginalized peoples live. She says, “It’s going to affect the way you live your life. You have to learn how to survive. It is not how to live, it is how to survive. Surviving is trying to make sure you have the things you need and nothing more. There is more than that. There needs to be an understanding that things aren’t just what they seem, there’s so much more to it. What people see is a veil of ignorance and you have to look beyond the veil in order to understand that people of color, we have a double consciousness. We see ourselves as a person of color living in society and we also see ourselves as a person of color living in a society ruled by systematic and systemic racism.  We learn how to navigate through that system.”

I asked her what she thought or heard other people say about the protest. We discussed those who maybe don’t understand this protest and what her response to those people would be. She said, “People on this campus saw people of color more yesterday when we were hyper-visible to the community instead of the invisibility that we receive on a daily basis. It was from not uttering a word. It meant something.”

In our discussion, we discussed President Green and how we feel as though he is doing his best to be that peaceful voice who just wants everyone to be understanding of each other and how he had his hands tied when it came to the policy of not discriminating against students and a large majority of students who invite a speaker to come to campus. He wants both sides to be listened to, and we students understand and respect that.

Something both Eyana and Genovee said during their interviews was that walking around campus, seeing other students protesting made them feel a sense of empowerment and togetherness. It made them feel proud to be who they are. It made them feel one with their fellow students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and the other minority groups here on campus who don’t always feel heard. They feel that this movement was just the beginning and that change will come, slowly but surely but that when minorities begin to feel othered instead of included and thought about, they need to speak up because that is the only way things will ever get better.

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