Students stage a protest in solidarity with Missouri and Yale, drawing both support and controversy

by Briana Tang | 11/12/15 11:15pm

Students gathered in front of Dartmouth Hall chanting “Black lives matter.”
by Seamore Zhu / Seamore Zhu/The Dartmouth Staff

Chants of “We shall overcome” and “Black Lives Matter” echoed through the Green yesterday evening as more than 150 students, faculty, staff and community members dressed in black, walked from Novack Café to Dartmouth Hall in a demonstration of solidarity with the black communities at University of Missouri and Yale University and the larger Black Lives Matter movement.

Jonathan Diakanwa ’16, the president of Dartmouth’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People and one of the organizers of the demonstration, said that he thought the protest was powerful and that there was “a lot of raw energy and raw emotion” on display.

Seamore Zhu

Students marched from Novack Cafe to the steps of Dartmouth Hall last night.

Following the demonstration, Diakanwa said involved students gathered and breathed “a sigh of relief that there were so many people there with them.”

“They felt like they were alone in the struggle,” he said. “They felt like this is something they’ve been dealing with on their own — the issues that were brought up, the pain they felt as students and their sentiments for other campuses.”

Dartmouth’s chapter of the NAACP and Student Assembly organized the Blackout, at first as a response to the vandalism of the #BlackLivesMatter display in the Collis Atrium after its reveal last Thursday. The display shows 74 shirts representing the 74 unarmed individuals who lost their lives to police brutality this year. Twenty-eight of these shirts were black, representing the 28 unarmed black individuals killed by police brutality in 2015.

With heightened racial tensions at the University of Missouri and Yale University this week, however, the NAACP and the Assembly broadened the focus of the event to act as a demonstration of solidarity with the black students on those campuses, Diakanwa said.

The president and chancellor of the University of Missouri resigned Monday after student activists criticized the administration’s lack of action to combat recent racist incidents on campus. At Yale, tensions have boiled after their Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity chapter allegedly hosted a Halloween party open to “white girls only,” in which a SAE member allegedly refused to admit a group of women of color. In addition, an administrator at one of Yale’s residential houses, Erika Christakis, sent an email defending students’ dressing up in potentially offensive or culturally insensitive costumes.

“I know if I was in the same situation as a scared black student, I would want people to at least show that they care,” Aaron Cheese ’18, one of the demonstrators, said. “This is not only for the black community at Dartmouth but also for the students at Mizzou and Yale.”

Dartmouth’s chapter of the NAACP contacted student groups at peer institutions to spread the idea of hosting a Blackout. Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Harvard Universities and the University of Pennsylvania either had a Blackout event yesterday or will in coming weeks. More than 25 colleges, after hearing about the Blackout movement through social media, expressed interest in organizing a demonstration on their campus, Diakanwa said.

In addition to providing a “strong ground” on which supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement can stand in solidarity, leaders of the Dartmouth’s NAACP and the Assembly said they hoped the event would bring attention to the racism that continues to pervade college campuses, as well American society at large.

“It’s about all people coming together — not just the people of color coming together — everyone coming together, to address the serious issue of racism that’s still prevalent in our society,” Assembly president Frank Cunningham ’16 said.

Cunningham also said the Blackout would be especially important in informing Dartmouth students of the issue’s relevance, since the College’s remoteness can make it easy to be detached from current events.

“We need to wake up and realize there are a lot of things that are happening outside of this bubble, and that we can feel those vibrations here,” Cunningham said.

Assistant dean and advisor to black students at the Office of Pluralism and Leadership Kari Cooke said that it is important for Dartmouth students to add their voices to the national conversation and find “ways to be intentional and proactive to ensure Dartmouth is a space where students can thrive and feel safe and valued.”

Diakanwa said while he has not seen the overt forms of racism that are present in more polarized parts of the country at Dartmouth, he cited events like the Bloods and Crips party — hosted by the now-derecognized Alpha Delta fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority, now Chi Delt sorority, in the summer of 2013 — the “latent racial tendencies that appear when people aren’t thinking” and lack of faculty diversity as examples of racism at Dartmouth that many fail to address.

Cunningham said that students have the ability to control the types of actions that happen on campus.

Diakanwa said that the Blackout event was most important in its visibility. Unlike the #BlackLivesMatter display that several students were able to anonymously vandalize without facing repercussions, the Blackout is a way to “show many people really stand for this issue and how many people care about this issue.”

“Seeing people wearing black will force people to think about these issues critically around them and to talk about something they could have easily ignored,” Diakanwa said

Cunningham agreed that it was important for students to take action.

“Events such as the Blackout and coming together to support the community members here are great action steps on our part, instead of looking to the administration to always solve these issues,” Cunningham said.

In May, Cunningham drew criticism for his yelling at a demonstrating student during a Black Lives Matter protest outside Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority’s annual Kentucky Derby event — a video capturing the incident surfaced on YouTube and was widely shared on social media along with a petition calling for his resignation.

Cunningham issued a campus-wide email apologizing for his behavior days later.

Assembly spokesperson Justin Maffett ’16 said in an interview on Wednesday that he hopes the Blackout will re-humanize the discussion on racism.

“We think of systems of oppression in the abstract,” Maffett said. “It’s very easy for students to discount that because they don’t experience the realities of it, so I hope their interaction in the presence of black students tomorrow will show the faces to these statistics.”

Maffet also said the Blackout may help to clear the misconception that black students at Dartmouth are “absolved, immune from outside forces and the systems of oppression.”

“The reality is that we’re still very much at risk,” Maffet said. “Our Dartmouth degrees and resumes don’t protect us. Your resume can’t stop a bullet.”

Co-chair of the Assembly inclusion and diversity committee Abbey Anderson ’18 said the Blackout will also be important in bringing together the black community at Dartmouth, which is “constantly forced to be healing from events either happening on or off campus.”

The other co-chair of the Assembly inclusion and diversity committee Sydney Walter ’18 said she hoped the Blackout will would show students how they can become allies.

“As an ally, it’s important to show solidarity, to take an hour of your life and show that you stand with the students whose feel threatened at other schools,” Regan Plekenpol ’17, another demonstrator, said.

In winter 2015, students staged a die-in protest on First-Floor Berry that had fewer attendees than Thursday night’s demonstration. In May, students staged a protest titled “March in Solidarity with Baltimore Uprising and in Protest of Dartmouth’s Willfull Ignorance: Let’s fight police brutality and complicity/complacency at Dartmouth” that saw roughly 150 demonstrating students. The following day a group of roughly 20 students staged a protest outside Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity’s annual Pigstick party and KDE’s Derby in which students chanted “There are two Dartmouths, and they’re right here.”

This term, the College has also seen tension with the Native American community. On the federal holiday of Columbus Day, flyers advertising apparel featuring the Dartmouth Indian mascot were posted in several dorm halls. This past week, a pong table allegedly stolen from the basement of Theta Delta Chi fraternity with the Indian head painted on it was propped in front of Dartmouth Hall, along with a sign that read “WE stand with NAD. We say ENOUGH.”

A group first met at the Afro-American Society then headed to Novack Cafe. The group walked to the lawn in front of Dartmouth Hall, where several students shared their feelings and experiences. At that point, the official protest ended, but many students wanted to continue moving throughout campus, Diakanwa said. As an organizer, he moved with the group to provide supervision and direction.

The demonstrators then went from First-Floor Berry up through Fourth-Floor Berry, then to Novack and Collis.

Some students who were at the library at the time said they felt uncomfortable with the disruption caused by the protest. Some of the demonstrators called out specific students who were studying for not standing up and joining the protest or not wearing black. One student said at one point he was concerned over the possibility of violence, while another said that he called Safety and Security because he was annoyed by the disruption.

Diakanwa said that while he saw “a lot of passion and emotions from both sides,” he did not think the situation would ever escalate to violence. If it did, he said, the appropriate authorities would have been contacted to maintain and control the situation.

A member of the Class of 2017 who requested anonymity for fear of being targeted said that he did not want to be near the protest, but walked through the crowd of demonstrators when they were on First-Floor Berry in order to check out books. He said that after bumping into a demonstrator, she called him a “racist, privileged a--hole,” and as he was leaving another student told him to “go to hell” because he was not wearing black.

Sam Kater ’17 was in Novack at the time of the protest. Kater said that he saw the demonstrating students come down the stairs and enter the study space, chanting “If we can’t study, you can’t study.”

Kater said that he saw one exchange between a female student and the demonstrators that might have been more aggressive, but he was out of earshot.

“There was definitely nothing hostile,” he said of what he observed.

Lucas Ribeiro ’19 was in a Berry study room at the time of the demonstration. The demonstrating students told him to come out of his study room and join them, Ribeiro said.

“It’s my choice to join,” he said.

Ribeiro said that he agreed with the students’ message, but he could not support their method.

“You lose the argument as soon as you start yelling and swearing at people,” he said. “You’re not going to win.”

Diakanwa said that some of the reactions from other students may have stemmed from discomfort.

He said that the protest and the visual aspect of seeing students wearing black forced students to reflect on and address an issue that they could have otherwise ignored.

“We live in the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire,” he said. “You could not turn on the T.V., just personalize your social media so you only see what you want to see and have no clue of what’s going on in the world, but today people had to take a second to stop, look and really think, and that makes people feel uncomfortable and that challenges some of their beliefs and asks them why this inequality exists.”

Diawanwa said that part of the goal of the demonstration was to engage students outside of the classroom.

“This is a conversation that will happen in every race and ethnic studies class,” he said. “This isn’t a conversation that will happen if you choose not to take those classes. Today, everyone was taking a race and ethnic studies class.”

Samantha Stern and Joyce Lee contributed reporting.