Fairfield University Student Association organized a student walk on Wednesday, April 19 to recognize the need for “cultural change on campus” and support the students who have been marginalized and silenced. The walk also occurred a year after students interrupted a “Community in Action” event to protest Fairfield’s decision to remove a Black Lives Matter flag in the Student Health Center last February 2022.
The walk started at the traffic circle bus stop around 1:40 p.m. after students, faculty and staff members were conversing and picking up the free shirts that were provided with the event logo called “Celebration of Unity”.
The event started with a small and impromptu speech by FUSA’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion Eden Marchese ‘23 (they/them) in which they thanked all the students who participated in the event and noted the substantial increase in student participation and support in the second “Black Stags Matter Walk”. After that introduction, Marchese led the walk of students to their first stop, the Stag Statue.
In their first stop, current FUSA Vice President and 2023-24 FUSA President-Elect Aliyah Seenauth ‘24 offered remarks on what the walk meant to her and all the underrepresented students of the North Benson campus.
“Students and young people have been leading activists since the beginning,” Seenauth acknowledged. “Today we recognize the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and how they have demonstrated the importance for institutions to encourage and facilitate student participation and organization in leading processes.”
She continued by listing and calling out previous events in Fairfield University’s discriminatory history, like the off-campus, ghetto-themed party in 2016 that made national news, the removal of a Black Lives Matter flag from the Counseling & Psychological Services office in 2022 and the town’s history of slavery. The President-Elect also celebrated the establishment of the Black Studies department and the integration of the Social Justice tier in the Magis Core Curriculum.
“Today we recognize the 20 Black students in our Fairfield community that demanded our institution of higher education to alleviate embedded racism in 1969. Today we recognize our Stags that were affected by the hatred and ignorance of the ghetto party in 2016.”
Seenauth also addressed last year’s BLM flag removal that prompted the first on-campus Black Stags Matter Walk by stating that “we recognize and highlight the place our minds and hearts were in on our campus on Feb. 28, 2022. The outcomes of that day still linger, and we will never forget to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter—they always have and they always will.”
Her statements concluded by sharing with the participants of the walk that being a Stag of color “means that you always feel like you have to defend yourself” and discussing the constant struggle of having to prove their abilities while “not [feeling] valued amongst our white peers.”
The walk continued through the center of the quad with the Student Health Center as its destination, the second stop of the event. There, first-year students Lliana Joe and Tayana Jones shared their experiences facing discrimination on campus and gave a voice of alert of the changes that are still needed to achieve a welcoming environment.
“We are freshmen, so class of 2026, and we are speaking about our experiences on campus,” Jones’ speech began in the company of another student speaker and Dakota, the campus support dog. “For me personally, nothing too bad has happened and I’m very thankful for that because I know other students have had bad experiences on campus in regards to their race.”
She continued her remarks by sharing part of her application process and the comments her mom shared about Fairfield’s lack of diversity. “When I applied to Fairfield, my mom told me that ‘you should look at the statistics of the school’ and I was like, well I’m expecting it to be obviously a lot more of white students, so that is not surprising to me. But she said that the number of Blacks and people of color were very, very small, and she was not wrong.”
Jones also commented on her admitted student’s day experience and how “lucky” she felt finding a safe space in the Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.
“They’ve helped me on campus. They definitely helped my experience. They helped me find friends who are like me, so I do feel very thankful and safe because of that community,” concluded Jones.
Meanwhile, Joe shared her perspective on the cyclic nature of discrimination and microaggressions on campus and how she had to prepare herself to confront that before moving to the North Benson campus.
“It’s easy for it to get passed over and get ignored because we are at Fairfield, and the majority of the people here don’t look like me … [and] so what ends up happening is no one talks about it, no one stands up for it and then it gets ignored and it keeps happening.”
She also narrated that she has confronted three “incidents” during her first two semesters at Fairfield, which she describes as “terrible and honestly unfortunate.” However, what troubles Joe more is “the fact that when I came here, I knew that was going to happen.”
“Another thing that I think needs to be talked about is the fact that we have to be more conscious of the things we say and the things that we do. I understand that there are situations where we aren’t from that background, so we really don’t understand,” said Joe. “But I’m not asking for empathy; I’m also asking for sympathy.”
She went on further by saying “We need to honestly question ourselves; we need to challenge ourselves. Why do we have these biases? Why do we say these things? This environment that we are in, because it is so predominantly white, fosters this place where these comments can be made.”
In her concluding remarks, Joe made a call to action for more resources and support to be assigned to Fairfield’s underrepresented communities and the programs supporting them.
After the remarks at the Health Center stop, the participants started to walk to the Canisius academic building, where the Managing Editor of The Fairfield Mirror, Max Limric ‘25, reflected on the paper’s commitment to be the voice of all students and encouraged Fairfield community members to contribute their voice to the publication. Then, the wave of people wearing black shirts continued their walk to the Egan chapel where senior student Kaitlyn Drake ‘23 was about to give her speech.
Drake opened her part by thanking the organizers for having the opportunity to “publicly denounce racism and say the three words that President Mark Nemec has yet to say: Black Lives Matter.”
“Obviously, not everyone at Fairfield is racist, but over these past four years, the university has gotten whiter and richer, just as it has risen in the rankings.”
According to College Factual, Fairfield’s population is 75.2% white, 8.1% Hispanic, 2.8% Asian, and 2.6% Black or African American. A 5.4% of students didn’t report their race or ethnicity, while 4.8% said they were international students.
While working for the Office of Residence Life as a Resident Assistant for the past three years, Drake exposed that “a grand total of one of my residents has been Black.” Meanwhile, she exposed that most staff members are students of color and the RA position “remains the most diverse cohort of workers at this institution.”
‘We have a responsibility to each other, to the Black Stags that attend this university, though few, so that they can one day live in a reality where Fairfield University is not characterized by the students who chose not to attend this walk, or who directly oppose our efforts on a daily basis,” added Drake.
Once her comments ended, the walk went to the south side of campus, with stops at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library, the Charles Dolan School of Business, the Jesuit Community house and Bellarmine Mansion—the walk’s last stop where FUSA’s D&I Director gave a final reflection.
“As someone who is graduating soon, it was something that I’ve always been nervous about because I was nervous of what comes next for Fairfield in terms of every time a senior class graduates, we lose incredible people,” Marchese confided.
They also encouraged the attendees to reflect on the reasoning why they participated in the walk and “whether that has to do with someone else, your care about other people, your care about the community … or with the notion of checking a box to say ‘I’m not like other people [at Fairfield]?’”
While making reference to the moment at the start of the walk where Vice President Seenatuh got emotional while reading part of her remarks, Marchese implored the participants to think about the reason behind those emotions.
“Think about why. Why is she in a place, why are other people on this campus community in a place where they are so emotionally overwhelmed with their experiences and so, get to a place of being distraught? What do you make in your everyday life to make sure that doesn’t happen to them.”
The event concluded with a debrief session at the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Center open to all students regardless of their participation in the walk.