“What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.”
Black student activists led around 250 students, faculty and community members in a demonstration in Red Square last night to express solidarity with college students of color experiencing racism domestically and internationally. The group announced a list of six demands directed at the university’s administration that address racial injustice at Georgetown.
The activists will stage a sit-in on the second floor of Healy Hall, outside the office of University President John J. DeGioia from 9 a.m. until midnight, beginning today, until their demands are met.
The demands include changing the name of Mulledy Hall and the McSherry Building, which houses the meditation center. The name retention of Mulledy Hall sparked ire earlier this year, calling attention to the actions of Fr. Thomas Mulledy, S.J., the provincial of the Maryland Society of Jesus and future university president, who authorized the sale of 272 slaves to a Louisiana plantation in 1838. McSherry Hall is named after then-University President Fr. William McSherry, S.J., who served as Mulledy’s lawyer during the sale.
The demonstration ignited after ongoing racial tensions at the University of Missouri, Yale University and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa culminated in protests, strikes and the resignations of university administrators over the past month. Students at many universities, including Syracuse University, Howard University and the University of California Los Angeles, have held demonstrations in solidarity with these schools.
The demands, announced at the demonstration and printed on disseminated leaflets, included the creation of an endowment for recruiting black professors — equivalent to the net present value of the profit from the 1838 sale — and mandatory training on diversity issues for professors.
Activists also called for increased memorialization of Georgetown’s enslaved through an annual program focused on education, placing plaques on the known unmarked graves of slaves and revising university tours to include information on the history behind campus sites.
The event began at 5 p.m. as participants gathered in a large circle, encompassing almost the entirety of Red Square. The event coordinators — Crystal Walker (SFS ’16), Candace Milner (MSB ’16), Queen Adesuyi (COL ’16), Ayo Aruleba (COL ’17) and Stephanie Estevez (COL ’16) — began with speeches that identified the experiences of students of color at Mizzou and Yale as reflections of a prevalent national issue.
“We came here today because this is not just a problem with Mizzou, not just a problem with Yale, not just a problem with UWC. This is a problem all around the world,” Walker said. “Anti-blackness is real, anti-blackness is a thing, and if we stand and take that, then they’re going to do whatever the hell they want to us.”
Walker also emphasized the importance of working toward institutional change to achieve progress.
“We’re tired of dialogue,” Walker said. “We want tangible change. There are so many things that can be done with the stroke of a pen. I don’t think we realize that.”
Milner said she defined solidarity as ensuring equal education and holding Georgetown accountable for its past wrongs and the experiences of current students.
“Solidarity is to ensure black students have access to education no matter where they come from. We will stand on this campus and we will hold Georgetown accountable for the experiences of black students,” Milner said. “We will hold GU responsible for the experiences of black bodies on this campus since they were here. … Black bodies built those buildings.”
After announcing the sit-in and distributing leaflets delineating demands, the organizers invited students of color to share their experiences of racial injustice at Georgetown. They also circulated an online petition to collect signups for the sit-in to ensure a minimum of 10 students are seated outside the Office of the President at all times.
Students organized the rally through a Facebook event, which has garnered over 600 RSVPs as of press time. The event continues to stay active in order to organize the sit-in and for further demonstrations of solidarity. In addition to attending the event, many students reposted a Facebook status urging solidarity with Concerned Student 1950, the group of Mizzou students who spearheaded activism on their campus.
In a statement to The Hoya about the rally, DeGioia said encouraging continued conversation and dialogue is an important part of Georgetown’s identity.
“As a university, we are a place where conversations are convened and dialogue is encouraged, even on topics that may be difficult. This is what we have done, and what we will continue to do at Georgetown,” DeGioia wrote.
DeGioia also stressed the importance of continuing to build upon conversations on identity with work that combines administrative and student input.
“We are supportive of our students and proud of the ways they have engaged race, identity, diversity and equity here at Georgetown and in our nation,” DeGioia wrote. “We look forward to continuing our work together with our community.”
After student and community activists raised concerns over the retention of Mulledy Hall’s name, DeGioia announced the formation of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation in September.The group consists of 16 students, faculty and alumni, and is dedicated to addressing the history and ramifications of Jesuit slaveholding at Georgetown, but it has been criticized for its slow pace, as student activists stated at the rally that simply encouraging dialogue on the issue is not enough.
In response to suggestions of changing campus tours to reflect Georgetown’s slaveholding history, Blue and Gray Tour Guide Society Vice President Lizzie Pinede (COL ’16) said Blue and Gray is open to improving tours to emphasize the contributions of the black community to Georgetown.
“Blue and Gray strives to portray the history of Georgetown as positively and accurately as we can. With that said, we cannot ignore how the institution of slavery has had an impact on the history of this university,” Pinede wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We are open to any and all suggestions of how our tours can better include the history of the buildings on campus, as well as honor and appreciate the many positive contributions black people have made on this university.”
Campus dialogue around diversity achieved a milestone with the passing of the diversity requirement to university core curriculums in April 2015, which came as a result of increased student activism including the Being Black at Georgetown hashtag, a nationally covered lens into the experiences of black students at Georgetown. According to event organizers, the passing of the diversity requirement is only the beginning in a fight against racial injustice on campus.
In the past year, students have participated in a “campus die-in,” a show of solidarity with victims of police brutality nationwide, among other demonstrations of solidarity. Activists also traveled to Ferguson, Mo., and composed the “Am I Next?” spoken word video, a nationally recognized spoken word piece conceived and organized by LaDarius Torrey (COL ’16) and performed by Walter Kelly (COL ’16).
The student movement at Georgetown is the result of ongoing racial tensions on university campuses, which received extensive media coverage this week when the University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned Monday. Wolfe and his administration had been under fire for failing to address issues of racial intolerance. Last week, Jonathan Butler, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, went on a hunger strike, while members of the university football team refused to play in their weekend game to bring attention to prevalent racism on campus.
Racism and violent threats were also levied toward students at Howard University yesterday, as an anonymousindividual made reference to the University of Missouri and threatened to kill any black student on Howard’s campus. These threats follow additional death threats posted on the social media application Yik Yak toward Mizzou students Wednesday.
The demonstration also comes at a time when activists have argued that the media has failed to accurately cover the experiences of individuals of color. Activists’ dissatisfaction with the media came to national attention when University of Missouri students physically blocked Tim Tai, a Mizzou student and photojournalist working on assignment for ESPN, from covering a the student protest.
In an op-ed published by The Washington Post on Wednesday, journalist Terrell Jermaine Starr wrote that the media should focus on covering victims of racism in a way that shows compassion.
“In most circumstances, when covering people who are in pain, journalists offer extra space and empathy,” Starr wrote. “But that didn’t happen in this case. These young people weren’t treated as hurting victims.”
Student activists at Georgetown announced before the demonstration that they would not speak with any members of both on- and off-campus media, and encouraged other attendees to not speak to the press.
“For the sake of the space we will be in, please do not speak to any on campus/off-campus media folk as we don’t want the narrative to be misconstrued,” Walker wrote on the Facebook event page. She explained her stance in a later post that linked to Starr’s piece.
Members of the university community responded positively to the activists’ efforts.
Associate professor of history Marcia Chatelain, an alumna of the University of Missouri and member of the Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation, said she is encouraged by the cooperation and solidarity between students across varied schools both domestically and internationally.
“It’s great. What I love that I’m seeing, that has really inspired me, is this ability of students to understand … at the end of the day, all students, regardless of where they go to school, want to have a safe and meaningful experience as students,” Chatelain said.
Center for Multicultural Equity and Access Executive Director Charlene Brown-McKenzie said she appreciated the depth to which Georgetown students engage issues of racial injustice while emphasizing self-care.
“As our own GU students also confront issues of racial injustice on campus and their home communities, they can encounter racial battle fatigue and I valued their care for each other as there was a clear call for ‘self-care,’” Brown-McKenzie wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, who attended the demonstration, said the administration will work in tandem with students to affect change on campus.
“It was valuable for me to hear the student perspectives and the experiences and issues that we care about. We’re committed to continuing to work together with students, to take these issues seriously, to work to change our campus, to make it the best Georgetown it can be,” Olson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Rosemary Kilkenny, who also attended the demonstration, said it was important to hear students’ reflections on their experiences.
“[I] was struck by the students’ passionate reflections about their individual experiences at Georgetown,” Kilkenny wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Georgetown University Student Association President Joe Luther (COL ’16) also applauded the turnout and focus of the rally.
“It was inspiring to see so many people standing in solidarity tonight. The organizers of the event did a great job highlighting what is a continuing problem across this country,” Luther wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Special Assistant to the President Fr. Raymond Kemp, who teaches “Solidarity and the Christian Virtue at Georgetown,” emphasized the impact the rally will have on the greater Georgetown community.
“Seeing half of my class actually speak for solidarity today is inspiring. ... The events at Mizzou, and Yale, and at college across the country are being felt by everyone,” Kemp said. “Here, after today’s rally, people in our community will get the message.”
Hoya Staff Writers Toby Hung, Syed Humza Moinnudin and Aly Pachter contributed reporting. Online page design by Andrew Wallender.