Recent issues at the University of Missouri have stemmed from the administration’s poor handling of a series of racist incidents at their college. As a result, protests broke out and college leaders resigned.
In the wake of these events, a group of students at Manhattan College were inspired to organize a vigil to increase awareness of racial injustice issues like these.
Senior Aleysha Taveras was not shocked when she heard about the news about University of Missouri, and compares it to Manhattan’s atmosphere.
“We are getting pretty diverse and I love that. There are changes to be made, but we are growing. I wasn’t shocked because out in places like Missouri, racial problems are still very tense. I was happy that athletes were asserting their power,” Taveras said.
Since Taveras and multiple other students were already in an email chain after organizing the racial justice teach-in last year, they discussed the idea of organizing something to promote awareness and inspire action.
“I felt like in light of recent events, no one can really say that they aren’t affected by this or that they don’t know someone affected by this, or that they haven’t witnessed it. It’s about incorporating that relevancy factor,” Taveras said.
The demonstration was an open forum, but the team of students and faculty organizing it had prepared readings in case people didn’t feel comfortable enough to go up and speak.
However, they ended up not even having to use half of what they prepared. The turnout left Taveras speechless.
“I was coming from student teaching and I saw this huge group of people on the quad, and I was like ‘they can’t be here for this, there’s no way,’” Taveras said.
“This was all last minute, it was our first time doing something like this, and I was just so shocked by the amount of people that came out and I was so happy that they participated,” Taveras said.
Taveras was also thrilled to see that the entire Residence Life Office and Richard Satterlee, vice president for student life, came out in support. Some professors even brought their entire classes.
These types of demonstrations have become very common at colleges across United States.
“We’re remembering that we have power. I don’t think we’re asserting our power enough on college campuses or realizing how much our voice matters,” Taveras said.
“It’s all about your attitude. You don’t have to be an activist, you don’t have to put yourself out on the frontlines to make a difference. It’s really about all the microaggressions and smaller things that have to do with attitude and educating ourselves,” Taveras said.
Ivan Bohorquez, senior international studies major, wasn’t necessarily shocked either when he heard about the events in Missouri, but was angered by what those students went through and knew that there needed to be an immediate reaction.
“As soon as you read the stories, you start to pick out some elements that are similar to this college, and you’re just like ‘ok, now I know that I’m just not imagining this.’ Other students feel the same way,” Bohorquez said.
The week before the demonstration, Bohorquez was one of the student panelists at the racial justice teach-in where he spoke about his experiences on campus.
“We’ve had the racial teach-ins which are great, but I feel like this needs to be a constant, ongoing dialogue. I feel like what happened in Missouri was because of a lack of communication between students and administration,” Bohorquez said.
Over the weekend, Bohorquez was actually in California for a student government conference, but was still on board for spreading the word about the demonstration.
When he returned that Sunday, the team completed the banner, sent the flyers out and everything came together.
Bohorquez was also grateful that a lot of people came out to the vigil, but admits he wished there had been more.
“To me, not enough people are there unless the entire college is there. I’m just that type of person. For what it was, a lot of people came, and it’s all about baby steps,” Bohorquez said.
“At larger colleges you see students mass mobilizing, and since they belong to our generation I think we as a whole are becoming more conscious. On the microlevel at Manhattan College, there is somewhat of a culture of obedience. We need to foster more of a call to direct action,” Bohorquez said.
Meghan Dinegar, a senior English major, also thought it would be important to have MC students to show solidarity with University of Missouri students and other students around the nation suffering from racial injustices.
“We originally were interested in holding it because of the protests at Mizzou, which are right now heightened examples of racial injustice on campuses nationwide,” Dinegar said.
“We also thought it would be an effective way to continue the conversation about racism on our campus. I definitely think the event was successful,” Dinegar said.
In addition to the students, Dinegar, Bohorquez and Taveras also attributed the success of the event to the faculty who were involved: Adam Arenson and Paul Droubie from the history department, David Witzling from the English department, Conor Reidy and Lois Harr from Campus Ministry and Social Action and David Bollert from the Philosophy department.
“They gave advice, advertised to their classes, forwarded relevant reading material and brought students to the vigil,” Dinegar said.
It only took a few students to organize an effective event driven towards changing the way students at Manhattan College think about racial injustice. The hope of the organizers is that more students will be active on these matters.
“Manhattan College is becoming more aware, and with that more active, but we have a long road ahead of us,” Dinegar said.