“We wear black because this is a movement,” Erik Rivera ’17 said to a full cafeteria in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday, Nov. 18 just after 6 p.m.
The eight-minute demonstration began when Rivera yelled “excuse me” to gather everyone’s attention and, along with two other speakers who all stood on chairs, expressed his frustrations with Dickinson’s allegedly discriminatory campus culture and the administration’s alleged lack of support for minority students.
Rivera first asked for “all the people in the black out wearing all black” to stand “in solidarity with us,” along with “anyone else who has been silenced, marginalized or underrepresented on this campus.” Approximately 25 people stood in response.
Breahna Pierce ’17 then spoke.
“I thought Dickinson was a place where I would be supported, a place where I would feel safe,” Pierce shared. “Instead, I spend my time fighting to dismantle the structures that marginalize many students inside and outside of the classroom. So I am here to indict those white structures. It is not my job to educate white students on issues regarding race, I am tired of being a professor.”
Rivera said that students participating in the demonstration stood in solidarity with activists at the University of Missouri, Yale and other college campuses who are protesting issues of diversity and inclusivity.
“We wear all black in solidarity for the students, the black students who are endangered at Mizzou, Yale and many other college campuses,” Rivera said. “We wear black because Mizzou is everywhere. We wear black because Mizzou is here, Dickinson. We wear black for the black and brown bodies used on this campus as tokens of diversity.”
Rivera, Pierce and Jahmel Martin ’16 each shared their reasons for participating in the demonstration and criticizing institutional action on diversity. Among these reasons were, “for the presidential emails,” “because don’t ask to touch my hair,” “because we know people are about to get on Yik Yak,” “because Dickinson sells diversity that deliberately excludes issues of race, class, gender and sexual identity in the classroom” and “because these are the narratives of the people sitting around you, or maybe at the other table.”
“We wear black because the happenings around the world are happening here on this campus. Wake up Dickinson. We wear black because, Dickinson, it is time that we are engaged,” Rivera concluded. “This is a movement.”
Martin then invited everyone to attend a discussion at the Social Justice House on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 9 p.m. He also announced their intent to create a list of demands for President Nancy Roseman and other administrators as a call for action.
“As students, we have immense power to change this college for all,” Martin said. “Administration, the president, the Board of Trustees, they need to listen to us. And if they don’t, we will expose the white power structures and ask them to leave since they don’t believe that our various identities belong on this campus. Power to the students.”
After the event, Pierce said that one goal of the demonstration was to raise awareness of the events happening at Mizzou and Yale.
“Stuff like that’s happening at Mizzou and Yale are happening at Dickinson and we’re not excluded, Dickinson is not a bubble,” she said. “There are injustices happening here and we will speak regardless of us being silenced in the classroom, regardless of administration not paying attention to us, we’re going to speak.”
Pierce said that students participating in the demonstration have already received support from certain faculty and administrators.
“This was not just a moment, this is a movement,” she said. “We’re coming full force and we have students who are ready to back us up and we’re ready to go. We also have faculty and some of the administration who are behind us and we’re going to move forward.”
According to Pierce, the demonstration and movement for administrative action are a community effort.
“We’re all working to organize this together because all of us have to deal with injustices that are happening on Dickinson’s campus so there are many different fronts that are organizing this,” she explained.
In response to the demonstration, Vice President of Student Life Joyce Bylander sent an e-mail out to all Dickinson parents at 10 p.m.
“I am proud of the way our students have shared their concerns, through posters and by speaking out tonight,” Bylander wrote in the e-mail. “I am heartened to know that they are still talking to us, and we are listening. We will respond to them in ways that we hope will ultimately move our community forward.”
Hannah Therrien ’16, who was in the cafeteria at the time, responded to the event.
“I think that it was very brave and very strong of everybody to stand together as a group and stand in solidarity with Mizzou,” she stated. “As a white person in the community, I would want to know what I can do to be an ally and to help without making it about white people. And I know a lot of people have the same question and I think dialogue can help.”
Students who wish to continue this dialogue are invited to attend the meeting at the Social Justice House tomorrow, Nov. 19 at 9 p.m.
Jessee Vasold, program coordinator for the Office of Student Leadership and Campus Engagement, was also in attendance.
“I just want to echo VP Bylander’s sentiment that students are leading this important conversation and that we are all listening,” Vasold said. “As a moderator for Sustained Dialogue, I look forward to continued engagement as students work together to present next steps for our community.”