By: Bill Silvia
The month of November has kicked off with a bang: the sound of students at Western Connecticut State University refusing to accept that things the way they are. On Monday, Nov. 4, the Black Social Workers Association (in conjunction with the Black Student Union, Latin American Student Organization, African-Caribbean Student Association, and Speak Truth to Power) held the Unite Against Hate event in front of the Student Center at 12:30 p.m.
The Echo previously reported on hate-related vandalism that occurred on the WCSU campus on Halloween night. Unite Against Hate was one campus response to this. Students wore black in solidarity and spoke about their concerns, their fears, their needs, and their demands. Other members of the university community, including WCSU President John Clark and Provost Missy Alexander, were in attendance.
The BSWA executive board, guided by President Chantel Williams, led the charge by making it clear why everybody was there. Williams noted that this was “not the first” such incident on campus and invited attendees to speak.
The first speaker was Juan Fonseca Tapia, a student who has been an active voice in anti-racism and immigrant rights struggles both on and off campus. Fonseca remarked, “This is a reminder for us to realize how important this is. A lot of times people say ‘How did we get here?’” He expressed that “we have always been here. We have always had white supremacy, but now people feel emboldened.”
Fonseca made a pointed remark at educators everywhere. He expressed that many professors do not want to express what they refer to as “political views” in the classroom, and had this response: “They haven’t been called ‘illegal alien.’ They haven’t been called ‘terrorist.’” This isn’t an issue of politics, Fonseca concluded: It is an issue that affects members of our community, and must be condemned.
Several speakers, including Black Student Union President Keanu Morgan, reinforced the need to fight for change. With Election Day less than 24 hours after the protest, voting was a key point. “Racism has no political party,” Fonseca remarked. “I don’t care who you vote for, just make sure they aren’t a racist.”
Although hope for the future was a theme for the afternoon, those currently in power were not let off the hook. Polticial leaders both regional and national were called out for furthering racist policies, and other students wanted to know why police presence on campus was not increased on Halloween, a night known for pranks and other anonymous behavior.
One student criticized the Annual Campus Security Report, required by the Clery Act, asking how the campus police could have reported a lack of hate crimes when they had personally witnessed swastikas in public spaces making other students uncomfortable, among other incidents.
In addition to the current students, WCSU alumna and founder of the groups Black Social Workers Association and Speak Truth to Power, Vernay Snow, spoke. She said that “The oppression I went
through on this campus is unbelievable,” and that she founded groups on campus in order to preventincidents such as this one.
Students, administration, and others on campus have a lot of work ahead of them. Many commuters, such as myself, are not directly affected by such hateful incidents and need to purposefully pay attention to be aware of how vulnerable their fellow students are. While voting is an important part of the process, as Juan Fonseca mentioned, grassroots organization is often far more effective at making change at the local level.
Another blackout/walkout event hosted by Western Beyond Borders will be held later this month. In addition to addressing concerns of racial discrimination and harassment on campus, this event is focused on immigrant rights. Concerned members of the university community should come to Fairfield Lawn on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019 to make their concerns heard.