Dartmouth students respond to Black Lives Matter backlash

‘Students at the library began to feel the discomfort because they finally saw the reality of this issue’

Coming to Dartmouth as a freshman Latina student from the suburbs of Chicago has been quite an experience, from being greeted with chants of “Welcome Home 19s” to being involved in three protests.

And I have realized that no place is paradise.

As a woman of color, I have recently experienced the divide that has been occurring on campus and I have experienced the unrest created after the Black Lives Matter protest of last Thursday.

I was upset at how the protest was portrayed by media outlets who suggested there had been violence in the library.

Let’s remember that some of my colored peers are afraid to go out of their dorms and feel unsafe on a campus that is supposed to address their concerns and aid them with anything they need.

Personally, I left  the protest because I did not feel comfortable.

But I wanted to speak to the people who were centrally involved – to let them give their own perspective on Thursday night, and the experiences that inspired them to organise it. Here is what they told me – unedited.

Jon Diakanwa, ‘16

“At the beginning of the term we knew we wanted to have an event centered on Black Lives Matter and we shared a display of T-shirts representative of the lives lost to police brutality in the Collis center. However, hours later we were notified that people were tearing out the shirts in the student center. Although they were yelled at, they did not stop and soon more shirts were missing from the display.

This was a huge disrespectful action and at that point, we decided to undergo the blackout because we wanted to show that you can rip off the shirts from the display, but can you go up to a person and literally rip off their shirts? The black shirts were a representation of the passion of students to be seen on campus.

A couple days later we realized that there were movements elsewhere in the country and we decided to create a network of Blackouts on Thursday with other schools in order to share our solidarity with black students at others institutions, like Missouri, where students of color have been receiving death threats.

We intended to do this in order for people to reflect upon the importance of the issues that are going on elsewhere because Dartmouth is very isolated and it is easy to ignore what is happening out there. There were hints from the backlash of the event as people asked if not wearing black made them racist. Others began to feel uncomfortable because they began to reflect of their privileges and forced them to confront this issue.

We had a beautiful meeting at Cutter prior to the protest where all students of color spoke about the issues going on in our campus. From there, we met at Novack where we were greeted by more than twice the people at Cutter. Dartmouth Hall was where the protest ended: that is what we had agreed on.

We had beautiful speeches as well as a moment of silence. However, at that moment, many students finally had the energy to fully release how they felt on campus. What many people do not realize is that our classmates and friends are suffering in this institution: everyday they feel the pain of not feeling important and acknowledged. Posters calling for diversity are on display often, but many students feel invisible on campus.

That night, many students felt that they were not the only ones suffering and they felt like they finally had a voice. I stayed with the crowd and felt how the protest became more passionate. Students were able to continue to chant what they felt deep inside of themselves.

It was at this point that students at the library began to feel the discomfort because they finally saw the reality of this issue through other Dartmouth students. Telling someone how you feel with that power made them feel uncomfortable and to some extent made them feel like bad people.

We continued this throughout the library but at no point did one student put their hand on another student. Especially students of color, they will not risk what they have sacrificed to be in this institution. There were debates from students that did not want to participate in the movement and students that were heated with passion.

There was an incident where a student started crying because of the overwhelming feeling of finally realizing what happened. We returned to Cutter where students were able to take in everything that happened, cry with each other, hug each other, speak with each other.

We knew there would be a backlash with this raw display of emotions, and of course there was. This made it impossible to ignore the reality of the issues that many students of color experience. I know that some people were not ready for what happened but we are merging adults and some of the brightest students. We should have the opportunity to think critically about the issue of race in our country.

While many students have taken this instance to go against the movement, I do believe that some students are finally thinking about this issue because they were affected by it and reflected upon what their peers go through everyday.

There were definitely flaws: isolated incidents that can cause conflict but I believe in the spirit of the movement and that the emotions are very valid. Students from all classes have been feeling these raw emotions, and imagine about those students that have been here for years. This is not the first protest addressing this issue, but it was a stepping stone to create compassion and strive for change from the administration because I believe that good can come out of it.

I think that it is a shame that media has taken the sensational side of the story to include isolated incidents and used them to define a story that does not share everything that happened with students that were not there, as well as the public outside of campus. Believe me, if you were part of the whole protest and felt all the passion and feelings from the students, you would see that race and inequality are issues that we cannot ignore anymore.”

Alissa Henderson, ‘19

“I felt that from both the sharing of the article by the Dartmouth Review and the reaction, we have recognized that there is an issue at Dartmouth that many do not recognize. No one is asking themselves why the protestors were so angry to the point that they had to escalate to that level.

It is always like: they did it, not: why did they do it? If you were to look at the people that displayed those behaviors, you will notice upperclassmen but you realize that their voices have not been hear for years. As a freshman, I do not feel comfortable here, but I cannot imagine everything that have been through.

It is difficult because it seems like no one is listening to us. Every time an article is published, they make it seem that this protest is wrong because Dartmouth is supposed to be a great place and I think that people need to realize that it is not great but it has a potential to be an amazing atmosphere for all students.

We need to address and fix issues that are currently being avoided. As a demonstrator in the protest that did not engage on the incidents, I do understand where the anger is coming from and why people reacted the way they did.

One of the protestors mentioned that students are using Yik Yak where their offensive posts get hundreds of up votes that affect people’s daily lives: my daily life as well. People reading the articles are assuming that it was carried by only black students that were being rowdy and are generalizing all of them as violent.

People do not understand how the Dartmouth students of color and allies, even those that were not part of the protest, are being affected by these comments and hostile views. Now I have to go home and explain to my family that their assumptions of the protest are not right.”

Chinedum Nwaigwe, ‘19

“Many have described the events at Mizzou and Yale as a catalyst to protest on college campuses nationwide. That is not the case. Students have already felt unsafe on their campuses, so they’re looking at these victories for strategies.

The purpose of the blackout was to show support for BLM, to let us know we’re not alone. The purpose of the protest was to disrupt bubbles of privilege who ignore this modern day genocide. Changing the hearts and minds of our student body is the hardest. Just look at the backlash we received from centering Winter Carnival around racial and social justice.

Yes, we were loud. Yes, some people cried, yes some people couldn’t study. Welcome to the experiences of so many marginalized and oppressed minority groups on campus. The school has said that they have yet to receive reports of physical violence. Because there is no physical violence to report!

Something else: many have been claiming allyship or saying things like, “I support what the movement stands for, but I disagree with the tactics used in this protest” or “MLK wouldn’t be proud.”. The NAACP at Dartmouth, The Afro-American Society, and the administration firmly stand behind the protest, which was not violent or hurtful.

Our intended purpose is to bring light to the marginalization of minority groups on campus. So, if people disagree with tactics, they should dig into the social movement repertoire, and use what they believe is the most effective. We used protest.”

“First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

-Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Birmingham Jail. 16 April 1963

Geovanni Cuevas, ‘14

“I was not part of the planning the protest, but I stayed throughout the duration of the demonstration. A lot of people do not know what exactly happened that night so I will recount how I experienced it. I remember hearing about how the display put up by the NAACP was defaced, and then reading about the instant mobilization that took place in response to that with the demonstration on Thursday.

I attended the meeting at Cutter where voices of color shared their suffering. At the end of the day, we pay too. We do not pay tuition and work multiple jobs to be racially profiled and endure harassment. This is what has created anger that has been perceived as violence.

The protest was mostly peaceful: the majority of time was used to chant in unison. It was meant to be disruptive, but it was never violent. I see violence as something that can be described in physical terms; causing physical harm to another person.

It was a non-violent protest because we did not destroy property, and we never hurt anyone physically. Our only intention was to raise awareness. There is enough violence portrayed in the media that we can tell the difference between the violence described by the Dartmouth Review and what actually happened. We must apply our education in these moments. This is a part of a much larger conversation about public safety for people of color at predominantly white institutions.

The events from Thursday and the resulting backlash, my assault at Brown, and the lack of response from the administration renders this campus an unsafe space for people of color. We have to run the risk of being hurt in order to see any response from the institutions.

I came to Dartmouth in 2010 and I met amazing people of color that let me know that this was not a safe space: they have had racist encounters with faculty, peers, and safety and security as well. During my time here I never felt like this was a safe space for people of color.

People of color constantly have to seek out their own spaces to have parties where they are not harassed by white peers or feel uncomfortable. Within 30 years we will be a majority in this nation and we need to make change.

This is why I want to change the theme of the Winter Carnival, because the institution needs to center issues of race on campus. I am really disappointment in the division created by the coverage of the media. Some people feel ashamed of what happened last Thursday and feel the need to apologize to our white peers but that is wrong.

I think that just because your experiences were different from mine, it does not mean that you have to call out our movement. I believe that “solidarity” is something that some people do not fully grasp: they do not know how to be true allies. At the end of the day, there is a little corner at Main street that houses people of color. Dartmouth was late to address our needs and recognize our community, and that is even reflected in our geography.

Dartmouth admits and hires people of different cultures but does not do enough for our families, our friends and our allies. Brown has a Dean for People of Color that is dedicated to their needs and they have a house for coalition building for people of color to find support: Dartmouth does not have that, not at all.

With all the endowments, what is Dartmouth doing for over 30% of its undergraduate population? I have a friend that works for Campus Safe Drive, which is an organization that gives rides to people at night that do not feel safe and he mentioned that on Monday he had given the most rides to people of color than he had ever given during his time working for the organization.

Our ancestors did not kneel for generations before us so that we could also kneel, Junot Diaz taught me that they knelt so that we could have an opportunity to fight. As for the Winter Carnival, I could not be happier if it were centered around racial justice.

We can program around issues such as the fact that the Black Lives Matter movement was started by black women, something Junot mentioned that has been forgotten by many. Dartmouth has the opportunity to tell that story, but it does not seem interested or well-rounded enough to provide that platform.

How can I get anything done when the President does not show up to a meeting where I address my assault at Brown? Vice-Provost Ameer, she had to take it all but the final decision maker does not even come to the table.  I thank those in the administration that are trying to address our concerns, and I hope that change is made.

I am hopeful that the Freedom Budget will have better luck this time around. If nothing is being done, all the brochures we are selling are lies. This paradise of diversity is a lie if the institution cannot protect its most vulnerable stakeholders, as such recent events must be framed as a public safety issue.”

Kevin Bui, ‘17

“I was at the protest and it was powerful.  I heard the inspiring voices of black people who spoke with their hearts and showed true strength and courage. It is extremely important for other communities of color to stand up and support one another.

As an Asian American, I have come to realize the important history of solidarity between communities of color that have been erased, and I really call on marginalized communities to all support one another.”

Bethany Malzman, ‘19

“It is frustrating to see that my friends do not feel safe or that they belong on campus when Dartmouth prides itself on being an inclusive community. We all are equal as Dartmouth students and should not be made inferior or divided based on the color of one’s skin or one’s background.”

Paolo Takagi-Atilano, ‘19

“There is definitely racism on campus and also a reason why people of color were angry with what is happening to them, especially with what happened at Brown. I heard from people that they went too far with regards to the protest, it should have been approached in a more respectful way. However, misrepresenting people of color is polarizing this campus and that is not right.”

Ben Szuhaj, ‘19

“The Black Lives Matter protest that took place this past Thursday generated a lot of controversy on campus. As a Dartmouth student, I can say that nobody was physically harmed, and that the protest was very impassioned.

During the day of the protest, I was ironically with a journalist from the New Yorker and we talked about the protest before it happened. He said that people have a right to protest because of the t-shirt situation and problems but he did not think that it was a big deal.

He stated that he is aware as a privileged man that wanting to move on comes from biased for he has never felt unsafe as a white man. I feel similar to that, I come from a middle-class family and I am white. I empathize deeply with the protestors, as well as others that were upset.

The news likes to traumatize things that are not true in order to get viewers attention. I posted a response to one of the articles on my author page and saw that a lot of people clicked on the article even though I had said not to and explained what was wrong with such article.

This is an example a lack of morality in journalism, which the news media is aware of, but ignores in order to give the protestors a bad name. While it is hard for me to fully buy into “no justice, no peace,” mostly because I don’t believe the two to be mutually exclusive, I do understand the frustrations of protestors and I can only imagine how much more frustrated they must be to have their protest deemed violent.

The image of a racially-bias mass media is not helped by the fact that this story has become distorted by the national press. I believe this only furthers the hurt and unfairness felt and expressed by many people of the movement. This only furthers the divide. Some people that do not understand the realities of those individuals of color do not understand that racism exists until it is directed towards them or until they feel uncomfortable.

I wish we didn’t need signs to tell us that they do. Black Lives Matter protestors: you have the media coverage, negative as it may be, now use it.

As a final point, I will like to state that this issue is not only happening at Dartmouth. There are many campuses around the nation where not only black students feel unsafe. White, Latinx, Asian, White, queer, transgender, and many others feel like their voices are not being heard.

Our campus gained attention to be able to serve as an example of the reality that we have to endure. The links to the 8 letters from the delegates from the Latinx Ivy League Conference at Brown University are included and I hope you take time to read and understand the changes that need to be made in our campuses across the nation.

I hope this serves as a culminating side of the story that you can reflect upon and understand. We have seen articles defacing the reality of the protest and not exploring the reasons behind it.

My sole purpose of writing this article is to give a different perspective that FOX News does not take time to consider. In the end, we are fighting for our rights as students, fighting to have a voice, and fighting to make change.”