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A Guide to Safe and Effective Protesting in the Age of COVID-19: UMass Amherst Edition

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Warning: This story mentions sexual assault, death, and murder which could be triggering to some readers.

Protesting has such an important role in maintaining and preserving what it means to be an active citizen of a society. No longer is the action of protesting reserved for taking to the streets, but with the usage of social media and other virtual platforms, everyone can have access to inciting change and empowering viewers. Every form of major change in this country has been inspired by some form of protesting and organizing, and it’s important to remember that with protesting, there will always be some form of risk. 

In 2020, I suddenly found myself in an inspiring, but daunting, place. It was the year that the world finally opened its eyes to the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement that has had its roots in my life since I learned of it in middle school. With the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the countless other Black and brown people who were killed or whose murders were being unearthed, I felt an urge to do something. I wanted to show my anger and to support my community as we battled with the shared trauma that surfaced whenever another Black person was murdered by the police with no real investigation following after. 

Of course, this was not only the year of BLM, but also the year of COVID-19, and I was terrified. I had just lost my grandmother two months prior to the sickness, and with that came a level of anxiety for not only my own safety, but the safety of my family. Should I go out and expose myself to thousands of people? What’s important about this thought process is that you should always do what’s best for you. I could have gone to every single BLM march, but I knew that in wanting to fight for the preservation of Black lives, I had to start with my own and those of my family members. 

With that, I urge my UMass Amherst friends and allies to think about this. We urgently fight against an administration that disregards the safety and comfort of the students that built and continue to build this very school and campus. They’ve made it clear that they will comfortably protect rapists and racists if it means being able to move on quickly from controversy, but we students have made it clear in the last couple of weeks that we won’t stop until the necessary change is created to finally feel safe on campus. I’ve seen so many great examples of students working to grab the attention of the administration and the surrounding community. Social media posts providing comfort to their school community and resources, clubs and organizations denouncing sexual assault and racism and calling on the school to be more available, and finally, protesting. So as someone who has gone out and protested my own freedoms, here are two things I feel should be said to those protesting on the UMass Amherst campus.

Students protesting sexual assault at Loyola University Chicago
Original photo by Lauren Hammett

Do not photograph protestors

The first thing I would like to mention is this: please, please stop taking photos and videos of other protestors out and about on the streets without their consent. Not only is it uncomfortable to find your face and body all over social media, but for one, what may be just a protest for you is a life-threatening act for others. Not everyone comes from a place where protesting is applauded. Think of the minors or of those who simply prefer to not have their location disclosed on a public platform.

Another aspect to this is that if an administration like UMass starts threatening students with legal action, why would you continue to willingly put the faces of your classmates in a public place? Being present is far more important than showing people you were physically at a protest. Remember, if you choose to document your time there, be cautious of showing the faces of others in your content, and if you do, get the consent of those involved.

Be COVID-19 Safe

Lastly, regardless of the fact that we are back on campus, we are still dealing with COVID-19. I know that it’s easy to forget, and the idea that the campus is almost completely vaccinated has lowered the walls of many, but it’s important to follow the protective guidelines. If it means being temporarily uncomfortable with a mask over my face, that reality is better than having to be sick in bed, missing classes, avoiding social situations, and having to go back home.

Protesting has and always will be the way that our voices can be heard and felt, and it makes me proud to see us as a community go out and fight for one another against a school that chooses to silence rather than act, but do so with purpose and understanding of what type of risk you may be putting yourself and others in.

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Shermarie Hyppolite

U Mass Amherst '23

Shermarie is currently a junior at UMASS Amherst double majoring in Communication and Journalism and is apart of the Commonwealth Honors College. When she is not writing for sites or doing homework, she is listening to k-pop music, reading, ranting about Beyoncé, and scrolling through Tumblr and Twitter.
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