Members of the greater Fairfield community and several students gathered at the Barlow entrance of Fairfield University on Saturday, Feb. 27 expressing concerns over recent racial diversity issues discussed at the University due to the alleged “ghetto”-themed party that occurred on Saturday, Feb. 20.
The demonstration at the Barlow entrance was organized by Jennifer Griffiths ‘92, who is the leader of the Showing Up for Racial Justice group in New Haven, Connecticut. According to Griffiths, SUJR is a white activist group.
“One of its primary purposes is to organize white people to engage in anti racist activism. When a crisis like this happens, a lot of white people turn to their friends and family of color and ask ‘What do I do? How do I help?’ and that ends up placing a big burden on people of color to always be educating white people,” said Griffiths. “So, it’s our job to educate white people about racism and organize white people around racism.”
The group was organized through a Facebook event page where Griffiths invited members of the surrounding community, along with students, to gather at Fairfield to show support for the students who have felt affected by instances of racism on campus.
Standing outside the gate of the University, different individuals held signs with phrases such as “Racism is not a Jesuit value” and “F U Racism.”
One of the attendees of the demonstration was Lisa Breunig, an adjunct journalism professor at the University. She stood among those protesting with her 6-year-old son, who held a sign that read “Silence is violence.”
Breunig is no stranger to diversity; she talked about how she has dealt with students at Fairfield who have felt uncomfortable being a minority.
“I am not of a background that’s traditional for faculty and I share that with my students,” said Breunig. “I let them know I did not grow up middle class, I let them know I am Puerto Rican, that I am of mixed race heritage and I let them know I was uncomfortable when I was in a higher education institution.”
Breunig mentioned how she has interacted with minority students who have talked about transferring because of how they felt at the University. She feels as though the University must do more to grapple with race issues.
“I don’t think the students are fundamentally responsible for this,” said Breunig. “The University, in my mind, is not doing enough or putting enough resources into minority recruitment and retention. I’ve had students talk about how the school has done so little to make them want to stay.”
Students who attended the demonstration had similar views to Breunig in that the University needs to take more action regarding diversity.
“The University held a forum about it and people were heard which is a great thing,” said Damini Patel ‘16. “But now, it’s time for the school to act on it.”
Some Fairfield students feel as though the gathering that took place is another example of how the community is mislabeling the student body.
“It’s not fair that people are saying that the community of Fairfield University is racist and that they ‘aren’t surprised something like this happened here,’”said Katie Sirna ‘16. “I’m proud to be a Stag and just because some kids threw that party does not mean that people can start to accuse all students of being ignorant of race issues.”
According to President Father Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., the University “will of course continue to examine our institution to ensure that our programs and structures are responsive to the needs of our students of all races and backgrounds.” as stated in his email to the Fairfield community.