‘Two Years Later...’ reflects on fall 2015 protests, encourages communication for race-related issues
Keynote speaker and senior Marshall Allen identified what he saw as problematic policies the university has in place regarding protests.
Nov. 15, 2017
The black studies department hosted “Two Years Later...” an event held to reflect on the race-related protests that occurred in fall 2015, on Monday. The event was held in Jesse Wrench Auditorium in Memorial Student Union and began with a showing of Spike Lee’s documentary on the protests at MU, “2 Fists Up.”
The event was co-sponsored by the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center and the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, Stephanie Shonekan, chair of the black studies department and professor of ethnomusicology, said.
Senior Marshall Allen was the keynote speaker at the event and participated in the protests as a sophomore. Shonekan said that she was thrilled to see him grow as a scholar and person in the two years since the protests.
Allen helped lead the Concerned Student 1950 movement, a group of students who identified as activists with the main goal to “seek the liberation of all black collegiate students,” according to the group’s Twitter bio.
During the fall 2015 protests, students involved with Concerned Student 1950 camped out on Mel Carnahan Quadrangle for a week to express their desire for former UM System President Tim Wolfe to be removed from his position.
Shonekan also read from letters written by students who had worked alongside Allen two years ago. One letter came from graduate student Abigail Hollis, who participated in the campout with Allen.
Hollis said that whenever someone mentions Allen, she is reminded of the campsite and how Allen took first watch outside the tents on the first night.
“Allen was always there, adding to our sense of strength through community,” she wrote in the letter.
Allen’s keynote presentation was titled “The Condemnation of Blackness: Protests, Policies and Progress?” During his speech, Allen outlined the problems that he feels have developed due to MU’s policy regarding protests and how the university approaches race-related issues.
He said that word choice within policies about protests is important to recognize and pointed to MU policies that he said had words that limited free speech on campus. He pointed to one policy, BPPM 6:050 Use of Facilities, that states that “university buildings and grounds are intended for use … in support of the university’s mission,” according to the MU Business Policy and Procedure Online Manual. This policy was adopted in April 2015 and revised most recently in August 2017.
Allen said he wanted to know what the university’s mission is exactly and how addressing racial injustice does not fall within that mission.
“What about free speech makes people uncomfortable?” he asked.
Allen also said that not every incident regarding protests is seen as the same by MU administration and the general public.
He referred to students who had spoken out about fossil fuels during a Board of Curators meeting on Friday, Nov. 10. Allen said that, while members of the board met with these students and appeared to have listened to their concerns, members of Concerned Student 1950 did not get that same treatment.
Allen said that he had been told by an MUPD officer upon approaching Jesse Hall that he would be detained and arrested if he stepped foot in the building for protesting purposes.
He said that because these students disrupted an official university event, they were protesting by definition but were not being treated the same. During fall 2015, members of Concerned Student 1950 were considered protestors by MU administration and had been called “disruptive” and held “riots,” he said.
“You have to wonder where the application is going to,” he said.
After Allen’s keynote, David Golemboski, a postdoctoral fellow at the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy, spoke about his own interpretation of how MU should address race-related issues.
Golembowski said that while a look at university policies is important and necessary, it shouldn’t be the only thing done when wanting change.
He said that the university should look at politics beyond policy and take a more radical approach. Policies are neutral, which can be an advantage since they’re something everyone has to abide by, he said.
However, for the same reason, policies also prove to be a disadvantage in terms of looking at problems involving race. Policies are not able to take social and cultural context into consideration that may apply to specific cases, Golembowski said.
“Policy is blind, just by nature, to contextual facts that are at the heart of the issues that Concerned Student 1950 [is] trying to address,” Golembowski said.
Allen and Golembowski then participated in a discussion moderated by Brittani Fults, education and prevention coordinator at the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX. Fults asked the two questions about their opinions on certain issues that relate to protests in general.
When Fults asked about how to put attention toward the policies and issues that are being protested as opposed to the actual protesters, Allen answered that the first step is people, especially administrative staff at MU, acknowledging that they can be wrong sometimes. He said that sometimes change is necessary and admitting that mistakes have been made is crucial in those instances.
Shonekan said that the department hosted this event because she feels that if any department were to commemorate the protests, it should be black studies. There was a similar event last year, one year after the fall 2015 protests.
She said that she understands the frustration of constantly having to explain oppression and racism to people who may not understand, but she continues with it because it’s her job to do so.
She also said that people don’t learn without being taught about these things and that allyship is crucial to education.
Allen agreed with Shonekan and said that if he, along with other black people, don’t share experiences in an attempt to educate others, he believes no one will.
“It’s not my job to relive my oppression,” he said. “My oppression shouldn’t be academic; it shouldn’t have to be in a book to be validated. But if I don’t [share my experience], who will?”
Courtney Lauer, student representative to the UM System Board of Curators, was a student in the law school in fall 2015. She said that discussion and interpretation of the protests were at the forefront of a lot of her studies that year.
“To be able to hear stories and emotions that was present then and present now is part of that educational piece that is ever so crucial to constant progress,” she said.
Lauer said she thinks that having open conversations about race, such as this event, are important to growing and learning as a university and as individuals.
Shonekan said the event went well, especially with such high attendance from students and other MU community members. Jesse Wrench was nearly full by 6:30 p.m., when the keynote was scheduled to begin.
Leaders from around MU attended the forum, including Provost Garnett Stokes and UM System President Mun Choi.
Shonekan said having discussions like this and honoring what students at MU did in 2015 are important in making sure those students fought for something that won’t be forgotten.
“It’s critical to come together as a community,” she said. “I think it’s important for us all to start thinking about what we need to do as a community and to tell our own story, which is the most important part.”
Edited by Olivia Garrett | firstname.lastname@example.org