An estimated 250 Davidson students, faculty, administrators and staff circled the flagpole on Thursday during Common Hour in solidarity with student-activists around the country marking a National Day of Action.
“I’m proud of our community,” said Rashaad Phillips ’16, who, alongside Fabian Lara ’16, planned Davidson’s gathering against the marginalization of students of color at America’s predominantly white institutions.
He and Lara were responding to a call to action made by Ravyn Brooks, a student at Missouri State University, last Monday, a week after protests led to former University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe’s resignation. Mizzou student-activists had accused Wolfe of neglecting to address students’ concerns about racism on campus.
“This is not only happening at the University of Missouri, but these same problems are happening at Davidson College,” Phillips said, noting that he was pleased with the turnout.
The demonstrators formed a large circle outside Chambers, linking arms while students in the center led songs and chants such as “This is what America looks like” and “No justice, no peace.” Between chants, students gave short speeches and personal testimonies.
Joi Stevens ’18 recounted being followed by a police officer while driving with friends to a fast-food restaurant. Many in the circle were audibly moved as she spoke of calling her mother in case anything happened to her.
“Picking which story to tell was the most difficult, because I have so many stories about race from Davidson,” she said.
She felt the story she chose reflected a common experience. “The first thing my mother told me when I was learning how to drive was that if I was ever to be pulled over at night, to go to a well lit and populated area, only crack my window, and ask for another cop to come as backup,” Stevens said.
Although she said she was nervous about sharing, she is now glad she spoke. “Everyone has to know the daily struggles of people of color, and they can’t ignore them anymore.”
Student Government Association President Pablo Zevallos ’16 spoke about the exhaustion that stems from underrepresentation and prejudice. “I’m tired because whenever I see an injustice on this campus or elsewhere, I feel like I have to suppress my anger because I don’t want to be perceived as dangerous or as a threat.”
He defended his choice to support the event in a Wednesday night email to the student body, claiming, “Neutrality in the face of inequality does not exist.”
Shuyu Cao ’16 participated in the demonstration by reading aloud racist Yik Yaks from the Davidson area. She said the demonstration was unique because it gave students of color a chance to be heard.
“This event provided an hour that focused on people of color and allowed us to speak without limitation,” Cao said. “There are very few events on campus that provide spaces like that.”
Phillips noticed Cao’s reading of the Yik Yaks seemed to make a big impact of the faculty and administrators present. “It was interesting watching the faces of the faculty, because I think they were realizing, ‘Oh my god, I teach students who think like this. How scary is that?’ ”
He hopes the testimonies will increase awareness about the realities of racism at Davidson.
Lara and Phillips planned the event in less than 24 hours after reading about the call to action in The Black Tribune, an online publication edited by students at Loyola University-Chicago.
A list of participating schools, including Davidson, can be found on its website.
“As members of the Tau Omicron Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated here, typically we’ve been a part of that movement,” Lara said. “Our chapter and students like us have been big leaders in events like these, in moments like these, and so we felt it was our duty and responsibility to react as well.”
Although they were pleased with the turnout to the event, both Lara and Phillips noticed a disproportionate ratio of students of color to white students. “Where are 70% of white people?” Phillips asked. “Hello? Where are you?”
Lara blamed these absences on a desire to feel comfortable rather than challenged. “It’s OK to be wrong. It’s OK to try and fail when it comes to understanding race,” Lara said. He hopes to encourage students to “ask the hard questions, to really try and step out of their comfort zone so they can learn, and so we can actually progress.”
Hannah Lukow ‘17, who spoke up at the demonstration about white silence, said, “this lack of reciprocity in racial dialogues is unacceptable.”
She urged white students not to place the burden of racial education on people of color, but rather to learn to both listen and engage. “As a white person, my race profoundly affects my experience—I just have the privilege of not noticing,” Lukow said.
The Rev. Rob Spach ’84, Davidson’s chaplain, ended the demonstration with a prayer: “How long, how long, how long must this struggle continue?” He invited students to participate in one-on-one prayer with him after dispersing.
The organizers hoped that standing in solidarity with Mizzou would bring to light the experiences of people of color at Davidson. Lara said his biggest goal for the event was “to continue to make the issue of race salient to students and faculty so that it can be addressed and changed and not just passed over, as it often is.”