Students from the Racial Justice is Social Justice Club staged a demonstration on race on Wednesday afternoon. From 2:15-4:00 p.m., club members, student supporters and faculty began at the lobby of the DiMenna-Nyselius Library, walked to the Barone Campus Center and the Stag Statue and ended the demonstration outside of the third floor of the BCC.
The demonstrators, dressed in all black, carried posters with them with phrases such as #BlackLivesMatter, Pro-Black Isn’t Anti-White and “Only a black student knows what it feels like to be a black student on campus.” They also shared how they felt, inviting other students to join. In attendance, as well, were Father Jeffrey von Arx S.J., Dean of Students Karen Donoghue ‘03, and multiple other administration members.
“I’m here to support our students who are in solidarity with their peers and friends across the country,” said von Arx. “Fairfield has always stood for inclusiveness, and we want to make sure that as a Jesuit, Catholic university we have a welcoming atmosphere from all of our students. So I’m here to support this and I look forward to seeing the dialogue with these students about the issues they’re concerned with.”
Von Arx would proceed to send out a campus-wide email later in the day, referencing the demonstration and relaying the message that Fairfield is “an inclusive and discrimination-free community.”
Starting in the library, the demonstration began with a moment of silence led by Joe Harding ‘18 to mourn those who lost their lives as a result of recent events around the country and the world. The crowd of about 50 students, faculty and administration members then moved to the area in the BCC in front of the Information Desk.
Following a moment of silence there, they proceeded toward the Stag Statue where they gathered around Fairfield’s central landmark and remained for about 20 minutes. On their way there, they played songs such as Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” and Big Sean’s “One Man Can Change the World.”
The demonstration then moved to the area just outside of the third floor BCC, where participants formed opposite lines along the building and fence with their posters held up for students to walk between when entering and leaving the BCC.
While the majority of students walked past the demonstrators with their heads down, others, like Brian Daly ‘19, joined: “I joined just because it was an important topic and an important subject that we all should be more aware of.”
“A lot of people are just uncomfortable walking by and uncomfortable talking about it and I think the more people who join, the more people who promote awareness, the more comfortable we can be to talk about it and the more we can change,” Daly said.
After remaining here silently for close to 30 minutes, Harding thanked all those who attended, and invited everyone to debrief about the event in the LLBCC. There, students and faculty members alike exchanged their thoughts on the demonstration, and continued to brainstorm on further ideas, how to spread the word further around campus and if they can continue such events in the future.
Dr. Jocelyn Boryczka, associate professor of politics, reflected on the event and shared a positive message of solidarity with the students of color in attendance. “I stand by you and I stand with you… We stand with you. Come to my office. There are spaces where we can connect outside of the places where we feel isolated,”
In order to prepare for the day’s events, Harding shared that RJSJ reached out to other groups on campus with similar interests. Senior and Fairfield University Student Association President Anif McDonald stated that other clubs on campus such as S4J, FUSA and the Inter-Residential Housing Association, among others, have partnered with RJSJ.
With regards to support from the administration, McDonald said that Donoghue and von Arx were made aware of this demonstration occurring prior to Tuesday, and that some administration such as Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Kris Sealey, Director of Residence Life Ophelie Rowe-Allen, Men’s Basketball Head Coach Sydney Johnson and Assistant Dean of Students and FUSA adviser Kamala Kiem have helped the students to organize and facilitate.
“They’re really helping us just make sure we have a solid plan and we’re doing what we want to do. We’re not watering down anything for any of the students. We’re saying how we feel and moving forward,” McDonald said.
The goal of the demonstration, according to McDonald, is “being in solidarity with everything that’s going on,” referring to recent acts of racism on college campuses and racial violence within the country, as well as “trying to create a little more harmony within the entire university as a whole,” referencing the attacks on Paris on Friday.
“We want people to feel comfortable, we want black students to feel comfortable. We want students in general just to know that we hear what’s going on in the world, and we care about it. Not just black students, white students as well. I know right now that there’s not big tensions, but on the outside world there are, and we want to let other people know that we acknowledge that,” McDonald said.
Members participating in the demonstration met the night prior, on Tuesday evening, to create posters, as well as create a plan of action for today’s demonstration; these students were representatives from RJSJ, S4SJ and FUSA, and met inside the FUSA office. However, a smaller group of black students met outside in the LLBCC.
Black leaders on campus met with Alexis Ward, a counselor in Project Excel, which is an on-campus program designed to “help students who are from low-income families, are the first generation to attend a four-year college or have a learning disability,” according to Fairfield’s website. Ward had been notified by the key organizers of the demonstration on Tuesday afternoon and the key organizers of the demonstration had reached out to her for advice.
“I’m a black leader reaching out to black students about black issues. They have no guidance here about these black issues,” Ward said. She added when asked about the demonstration, “They [The students] need to understand what it is they hope to achieve and what they want their results to be about this.”
McDonald commented that Ward “feels really strongly about this” and pushed the black student leaders to consider their purpose in the demonstration.
“We were hearing her and some of us weren’t affected by this as much as she had, but after her talking to us, we realized that it’s a real issue. People have to understand that race is a thing and we can’t really dodge it.”
McDonald, the student body’s first black president, had this to say about his participation in the demonstration: “Clearly, I see it, and being the president it’s kind of hard to be biased, but being a student of color as well hits home. I want to show students that there is some weight to this.”
All in all, aside from the students, many faculty and administration members actively participated and took solace in the demonstration, supporting how the students feel moved by such events and strive to be proactive because of them.
“I’m extremely proud of our students and community members who came together to highlight to the community that all lives matter, especially black and brown lives,” said Donoghue. “I came in today with hope that we, as a community, can come together and have a common experience and talk about it and come out with proactive steps moving forward. So, I’m very proud, humbled, honored, and privileged to be a part of this event, and I look forward to future events.”