On Sept. 4, Student Activities and Leadership Development (SALD) hosted a four-part series of Black Lives Matter-themed workshops celebrating the contributions of the Black community at Wesleyan.
Alphina Kamara ’22 and Qura-Tul-Ain “Annie” Khan ’22 hosted the event’s opening remarks and provided an interactive history of racism at Wesleyan. Pictured, the students discuss the Fisk Hall Takeover, in which Black faculty, staff, and students took a stand against racism and occupied Fisk Hall on Feb. 21, 1969. Fisk Hall was one of the main academic buildings at the time.
The workshop was meant to inform, create conversation, promote activism, and persuade participants to take action. “While we might seem so liberal, people still have certain views, and having these conversations can help mitigate these views,” Kamara said.
Kamara and Khan discussed Wesleyan’s first Black Lives Matter march in December 2014, when approximately 1,000 students, faculty, and staff marched through downtown Middletown as a show of solidarity with national protests against discriminatory treatment of Blacks in the criminal justice system and incidents of police brutality.
In another workshop, members of the Wesleyan African Student Association (ASA) spoke about their experience being Black on campus and shared advantages of being in the ASA group.
“ASA is my home away from home,” said Alvin Kibaara ’22 of Kenya. “It provides a space for me to relate to people who come from the same continent that I do, and we find similarities, and it gives you confidence.”
Sydney Ochieng ’22 of Kenya said, “Coming to Wesleyan, being called a person of color, I didn’t know what it really means. That in itself made me upset. I was given a label. At the end of the day, I’m African.”
The third workshop, titled “Did My Professor Just Say That?” focused on navigating race in conversations with college professors.
“All [faculty] are born and raised and living in systemic racism,” said Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics. “I had to deal with micro-aggressions and people … so nobody is exempt from that.
Remember, we all went through this too. You can talk to us.”
“I see myself engaged in a long game,” said Tony Hatch, associate professor of science in society. “In an epic struggle for human freedom, there are many front lines of battle. There are many different strategies and tactics that have to be deployed
to overcome. So, Black folks, at least I’m speaking as a Black person, we need to survive.”
Keynote speaker Professor Theodore Shaw ’76, the Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law at Chapel Hill, was the fifth Director-Counsel and President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., for which he worked in various capacities over the span of 26 years.
“The essence of the Black Lives Matter movement: It’s extraordinary that the simple statement that Black lives matter should provoke the reactions that it does. You know, all lives matter, you know, blue lives matter.
I don’t know that there was any doubt about those other lives mattering. But we can look at American history and look at Black and Brown lives
and they haven’t mattered in the same way.