In the wake of the second annual Black Stags Matter Walk, a number of Fairfield University students have taken to the anonymous app Fizz to spread insensitive comments. The walk, held on April 19, was the first time it was student-led. Fairfield University Student Association Vice President and 2023-24 President-Elect Aliyah Seenauth ‘24 and FUSA Director of Diversity and Inclusion Eden Marchese ‘23 organized the walk which featured student speakers.
In regard to the anonymous platform, Fizz, introduced at the beginning of the spring semester, The Mirror published an article about the controversy surrounding the app as not only students but also William Johnson PhD., Dean of Students, noted its propensity to encourage cyberbullying and spread hateful content.
Students voiced concerns over cyberbullying in the previous article but also brought the validity of Fizz’s anonymity into question based on the need for one to register with their student email. Also, because Fizz requires students to join the platform with their Fairfield identification, it is certain these comments came from the student body.
In one of the Fizz posts, a screenshot of the email sent out by FUSA marketing the Black Stags Matter Walk was uploaded and a comment under the post stated, “We should do a walk for our white stags.”
In another post to Fizz, a screenshot of FUSA’s “Unity in Student Advocacy: Black Stags Still Matter” event, which occurred on April 25, was uploaded, in which students left ignorant and insensitive statements in the comments.
“How come FUSA can’t stop emailing me about Black Stag events, I’m not Black so I can’t attend the event. I can now see where my tuition is going, funding this new Bellarmine school for underprivileged kids in Bridgeport. Disappointed that my money isn’t even going towards my education,” the anonymous comment read.
The Mirror has been unable to verify if funding for Bellarmine College comes from the tuition of students enrolled in the four-year undergraduate program on the North Benson campus. The Mirror reached out to leadership at Fairfield Bellarmine for comment on funding, but they did not respond in time for publication.
However, a FairfieldNews article details that funding for the Bellarmine Initiative comes—at least in part—from donors. The article writes that “a $1 million gift from alumnus and former University Trustee Kevin Conlisk ‘66, will significantly impact the development of [Fairfield Bellarmine]”.
Moreover, the Dec. 6, 2021 Academic Council meeting minutes state that “Fairfield, for a long time, has been well aware of the need for bridge programs for high school students from Bridgeport and surrounding areas, and we now have the resources and the will as an institution to act on that awareness.”
They affirm that “We have never been in a stronger place in the regard of resources.”
These comments posted to Fizz came days before Bellarmine’s Accepted Students Day on April 22, which hosted Fairfield Bellarmine admitted students on the North Benson Campus.
FUSA’s email highlighting the event details the responsibility that students have this upcoming school year when Bellarmine Campus opens its doors. “Going forward, we must all put equal effort in creating community between students at both Bellarmine and North Benson campuses in order to introduce this initiative with welcome and belonging.”
However, these comments posted on Fizz may allude to negative perceptions of Fairfield Bellarmine by current Fairfield students.
The Fairfield University Bellarmine website writes, “In the Jesuit tradition of serving urban communities and opening access to education for all, Bellarmine will offer strong professional preparation and enhanced academic support to low-income and first-generation students in Bridgeport and surrounding Connecticut communities.” Fairfield Bellarmine is set to welcome its inaugural class this upcoming academic year and began building its inaugural class on Jan. 26.
The concept of a two-year associate program is not a new concept as it has been utilized elsewhere in the United States. Loyola University Chicago’s Arrupe College program offers similar academic tracks to ensure that any student, regardless of their financial situation, is able to immerse themselves in Jesuit higher education at an affordable price.
The Fizz post referencing Bellarmine Campus received five downvotes, meaning a net total of five users of Fizz did not like its content. Another comment on that same post made reference to the five downvotes, likening the number of downvotes to the lack of diversity on campus, writing that “All the black people at Fairfield downvoted lmao.”
Seenauth, who played a vital role in the organization of the walk, is “disappointed in the words being said on Fizz,” noting that she is “unfortunately not shocked.”
She points out that many of the comments on Fizz are false and if students took the time to attend FUSAs’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion events, they would learn about the importance of such events and their thinking would be challenged.
In response to the Fizz comments, the President of the Black Student Union Mekaylia Ingram ‘25 took to Instagram with an official statement:
“I just wanted to let you all know that I am aware of the insensitive and racist comments being made on the anonymous platform ‘Fizz’ in regards to the Black Stags Matter events taking place on campus. Despite all the discouragement we may be facing, I am beyond proud of you all for showing up for you!”
She then addresses those who spread hate: “To those who choose to live a life of negativity and hate. I pray [that] you find peace within yourself and begin to unlearn the habits that are hurtful to other communities.”
This is not the first instance in which the anonymity of Fizz has resulted in an influx of hate comments after an event highlighting students of color. President-Elect Seeaunth recalls her campaign for the FUSA presidency and the comments that arose on Fizz during said time.
“Throughout my campaign I witnessed very hurtful and distasteful things said about myself and students of color in general on Fizz.”
First-year Blessed Barrios, the BSU Event Coordinator elect, notes that because of hateful comments on Fizz “some people are starting to not feel safe on campus due to these posts and it is horrific that students are being affected and things aren’t being done.”
She believes that the students making these comments on Fizz should be held accountable because their comments affect people’s lives as users hide behind Fizz’s anonymity to spread hate and create an unsafe environment on campus.
“Imagine if students had to sign in to Fizz and have their real names displayed every time they posted,” she said. “No one would be posting all of these hateful comments.”
In the comment section of Fairfield BSU’s Instagram post, Rachelle Brunn-Bevel Ph.D., Chair of Sociology and Anthropology and Associate Professor of Black Studies noted Fizz’s similarity to Yik-Yak.
“I had to Google what Fizz was. This sounds very similar to commentary on Yik-Yak during and after a peaceful protest led by students of color in response to Eric Garner’s murder several years ago,” she commented.
Seenauth also notes the similarity between responses to the Black Stages Matter Walk and the responses to the “ghetto party” in 2016. She continued, “Folks took to Yik Yak at the time to share their ignorance on another anonymous platform.”
Additionally, the Black Studies department at Fairfield shared their response to such acts of hate on Instagram as well.
“The power and audacity of a march: to be forced to see that racism lives and thrives on a college campus in 2023, to disrupt the narratives of racial tranquility.”
Their post then touches upon the fact that the walk—which focused on the power of students’ voices and experiences—incited such negative responses.
“In laughter, friendship and comradery, Black students, Black staff, Black faculty and faculty of color and their allies in their Black t-shirt walked from one spot to the next, telling stories of their experiences and their truths somehow incited negativity,” @blackstudiesfairfieldu on Instagram wrote.
The Black Studies Department continued to note the resemblance between the responses that the walk garnered from students on Fizz and the responses that the removal of the Black Lives Matter flag last year garnered:
“This march and this response suggest that silence is complicity. Like the Black Lives Matter flag, the march made some folks uncomfortable, perhaps exposed. And yet … and yet this was only an assembly of people … walking … no official demands were made. If anything, it was expected that the campus bear[s] witness, and in return, some have behaved badly.”
Seenauth attributes the comments on Fizz to a lack of empathy and a lack of education on one’s implicit biases.
“As Fairfield’s student body is made up of wealthier individuals who identify as white and don’t have to think the way underrepresented students do, when things like this are posted I always tell myself, these people just haven’t educated themselves on their unconscious biases and unfortunately haven’t addressed the way they’ve been socialized,” stated Seenauth.
Marchese echoed Seenauth’s sentiments, and when asked if Marchese believes that these posts reflect the views of the larger student body as a predominately white institution, Marchese stated no and then touched upon the silence of white people on campus in regard to social justice:
“I think it is more telling how silent white people on campus have been, especially when it isn’t ‘trendy’ to join a movement.”
Ingram also challenges students who espouse racist ideologies and asks “those who wake up every day with racist ideologies to think about what they gain from making negative comments to a group of people. Where does your insecurity lie? How does it make you a better person? Why are you so hurt that a community that faces constant oppression is being uplifted? And last but not least, What if you were being targeted simply for the color of your skin?”
Marchese then expressed the necessity for white people to not only challenge their biases through education but also to join the movements.
“White people have to realize that they need to be a part of the movements to make campus safer for all of our communities. Stop putting the work solely onto the communities being targeted. Do research, educate yourself and speak out when your friends or strangers are acting out of ignorance. Stop being complacent,” they finished.
Student unions on campus are a part of the movement and continue to show their support for the black community on campus as they condemn the comments on Fizz.
The Latinx Student Union issued a statement to The Mirror regarding the recent hate online and noted that hate on campus does not only affect Black students but the entire student body.
“The Latinx Student Union condemns all acts of racism, microaggressions and insensitivity towards the Black community. We stand in unity with the community of color on campus, as these issues severely impact all of us.”
In regards to the walk, Marchese states that “the central theme of the event was one of community.” And that “community goes beyond people like those that wrote on Fizz who are scared of a world in which all people are loved. Their ignorance and hate will never stop movements of love.”
They continued, “It was beautiful to see how many people around campus came together for the event and I know that love will always triumph over injustice and hate.”
Seenauth affirms that the “Black Stags Matter Walk was a success this year and it is not going anywhere. We will continue implementing this walk as it is clear that many do not understand its purpose and need.” She then states that “the remarks being said on Fizz represent the exact reason we have events like this.”
Seenauth encourages her white peers to come out to more DEI-related FUSA events in the future to educate themselves and “to challenge their thoughts, learn more about real-world issues and momentarily walk in the shoes of a Black and Brown student.”
She leaves us with a question: “At a Jesuit University like ours, social justice is at the forefront, and if the majority of our students are not advocates in this journey, how modern of a university really are we?”
A correction was made on April 26, 2023:
An earlier version of this article referred to Vice President of Student Life, Karen Donaghue ’03 in regards to a comment on Fizz. Dean of Students, William Johnson PhD. is the one who made those comments.