Fairfield University’s Health & Wellness Committee hosted the Black Stags Matter Wellness Walk on Wednesday, April 20 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Students and faculty gathered for the event and were able to listen to different speakers while visiting eight different spots across campus “that have connections to promoting racial equity at Fairfield,” according to an email sent by HealthyU@Fairfield.
The walk began outside of the Barone Campus Center nearby the Stagbus shuttle stop. The different spots attendees visited included the Stag Statue, Wellness Center, Canisius Hall, Egan Chapel of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, DiMenna-Nyselius Library/Charles F. Dolan School of Business, Fairfield Jesuit Community Residence and Bellarmine Hall.
The Health & Wellness Committee is made up of different University departments within Student Life including Counseling and Psychological Services, Leslie C. Quick Jr. Recreation Complex, Campus Ministry, The Student Health Center, Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, and the Office of the Dean of Students, etc.) as well as Human Resources, Public Safety, The Kelley Center, The Murphy Center, Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies, just to name a few.
Various members who attended the event shared their thoughts and reflections on their experience.
Susan Birge, associate vice president for Health and Wellness and director of Counseling & Psychological Services, stated that the walk had “approximately 100 members of the campus community” in attendance.
Birge continued that the intention of the walk was “to continue to raise awareness that Black Lives Matter and that Fairfield University, through its mission and Jesuit values, calls on the community to work for social justice.”
Clinesha D. Johnson, associate director for student support through the Office of the Dean of Students Psy.D says, “the march was amazing.” Johnson continues, “the delivery of words expressed through song, poetry and from the heart really elevated and intensified the experience of walking for the purpose of uplifting Black lives within our campus community.”
Johnson shares her biggest takeaway from the event is that “there are people who really care and value Black lives on campus.”
Johnson states “our student body, faculty/staff are open to experiencing ways that we can make our campus more inclusive, which will only lead to more dynamic and enriching experiences here at Fairfield.”
It was salient for Johnson to attend because, “as a Black staff here at Fairfield University, it was important for me to stand in the gap for those students, faculty, and staff that look like me, who feel that their voices are not being heard.”
She continues to express, “I believe that using my platform as the chair of the Mental Health & Wellness Subcommittee to contribute to impactful, positive and healthy work is invaluable.”
Johnson explains the impact that this event had on her, to “stand on the shoulders of those Black colleagues who have come before me, and hope to inspire Fairfield to open the door wider for the Black people who have yet to come.”
Johnson concludes, “It is also important to note that Black people on this campus cannot do the work alone. We need our white colleagues and peers to walk alongside us. They did that on April 20!”
With regards to the future, Johson relayed that “it is our [Health & Wellness Committee] plan to make this an annual event and continue to bring this important work to another level!”
Eli Olken-Dann, director of Recreation and Wellness shared a similar sentiment stating, “it was nice to see so many people from different areas of the campus community come together to support our community of color.”
As a member of the Health and Wellness Committee, Olken-Dann expresses “it’s critical we support events and programs like this, since the mission of the Health & Wellness Committee is to provide a positive, collaborative and inclusive environment, through mind, body and spiritual well-being.”
Kathleen Byrnes, campus minister for social justice and community engagement, also attended the event.
Byrnes stated her biggest takeaway was “the gathering together of so many people and marching physically around campus.”
Throughout the event Byrnes relayed that, “folks on tours, on their way to classes and just out enjoying the day could not help but stop and notice us. It made for some great conversations along the way!”
Byrnes also hopes there will be university run events in the future similar to this.
”This was an initiative of a subgroup of the Health and Wellness Committee because it is a critical part of how we view wellness on this campus,” relayed Byrnes.
She shares, ”I hope as a Jesuit institution we have many more events like this from academic and co-curricular perspectives that continue to challenge and engage us to do better.”
Students who attended also shared their experiences during the event.
Senior Erin Patten exclaimed “the march was really well done…it was really special being able to walk alongside BIPOC students/staff/faculty and listen to different stories and hear what the university is doing to recognize and assist the BLM movement.”
Patten states her biggest takeaway from the event was “seeing some of the significant members of the Fairfield University community who are taking action.”
She explains how there have been emails, posts and signs that call for the support of BLM movement and BIPOC community, “but watching people take action and march together was something incredibly powerful.”
Something that could have been done better according to Patten “would have been the presence of President Nemec.” Patten explained she was told Nemec was not in attendance because he had an award ceremony to attend, but several other faculty/staff members who were attending the same event were present on the march.
Junior Eden Marchese, Fairfield University Student Association director of Diversity & Inclusion, also had positive remarks about the march stating it “was really beautiful.”
Marchese states their biggest takeaway from the event is “that all of our voices will always be louder than that of a University President or those who try to silence movements like this.”
Marchese continues to state that “even months after the event on Feb. 28, we are still united and fighting for change on campus.”
Eden is referring to the “Community in Action Event ‘‘ held by the university relaying their diversity narrative just a week after University administration directed the removal of a Black Lives Matter flag from the front window of Counseling & Psychological Services. At the “Community in Action Event,” student protests broke out in response to the administration’s actions and the neutrality stance relayed.
“Those who don’t want change to occur on campus are hoping that things will quiet down but people being at events like this shows that things won’t be swept under the rug like some would hope,” Marchese continues, “We’re here to fight for a better campus and we’re not going away.”
Marchese concludes with their sentiment of the lasting impact of the event. “[The impact] may not be felt immediately and I think that’s okay.”
However, Marchese continues “the march brought together a lot of people like it was meant to and I think it encouraged them to keep fighting and only a small number of people are needed to cause change.”
Senior Ruby Francis, president of Gender and Sexuality Alliance, said she enjoyed the march and it “was great to see everyone gathering to show that Black Stags Matter.”
Francis says that her biggest takeaway was “from a faculty member who spoke about the paradox of our university being Jesuit and President Nemec saying what he said during the event back in February.”
Francis continues to mention that the professor told those in attendance to rise for what’s right on this campus.
Francis stated that “the university needs to genuinely listen to Black students’ needs and concerns so that they can thrive.”
“Nemec needs to say Black Lives Matter and forget about his rule of institutional neutrality because a Jesuit university cannot remain neutral on this issue,” Francis continues.
Francis concluded, “At the end of the march, we said ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Black Stags Matter’ outside of Bellarmine, I wish that Nemec had been in his office to hear us.”