Protest at Smith College over racism on campus supports similar actions at Ithaca College, University of Missouri

Last modified: Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — About 200 Smith College students, Dean of the College Donna Lisker, and faculty and staff members joined in front of the Campus Center in the rain at noon Wednesday, calling attention to racism on campus and supporting similar actions at Ithaca College and University of Missouri.

Raven Fowlkes-Witten, chairwoman of the student organization Multiethnic Interracial Smith College, organized the walkout, which lasted about 20 minutes, so that students could stand “in solidarity with the Ithaca College walkout against the overt racism from their president as well as the (students) of University of Missouri.”

Tim Wolfe, the president of the University of Missouri system, resigned Monday, after demands made by an organization called ConcernedStudent1950, a graduate student’s weeklong hunger strike and an announcement by members of the Missouri football team said they would refuse to practice or play until the president left. Students and others accused administrators of indifference to racial tensions on campus.

Later Monday, R. Bowen Loftin, the chancellor of the flagship campus in Columbia, announced his resignation at the end of the year.

At Ithaca College in New York, President Tom Rochon has been criticized for his response to several incidents of alleged racism, ranging “from reportedly offensive remarks made by Public Safety officers at RA training sessions as well as by two Ithaca alumni at a campus event, to a racially tinged party invite from a fraternity,” according to USA Today.

Students in the group People of Color at Ithaca College held their own walkout Wednesday, according to the campus newspaper, The Ithacan. An estimated 1,000 people attended, chanting, “Tom Rochon: No Confidence,” in reference to a vote by the Student Government Association of “confidence” or “no confidence” in Rochon. Those votes are due by Nov. 30.

During the walkout at Smith, students began by chanting “Who’s not here,” to “call attention to white students who do not have to carry the burden of racism and racial injustice as well as to point out the black and brown faces that are not at (predominantly white institutions) like Smith College because of institutionalized, racially charged reasons,” said Fowlkes-Witten.

“Think about that question: ‘Who’s not here on this campus because of systematic oppression?’ ” said Tyahra Angus, a co-chair for Smith’s organization for queer or questioning students of color.

Angus also said the event had low attendance and attributed that to the Smith community’s lack of engagement in racial issues.

Among the administrators at the event were Lisker and Becky Shaw, director of residence life at Smith.

In an email statement to the Gazette, Lisker wrote that she found the demonstration moving and educational.

“These events — and events outside of college campuses — remind me that we have a long way to go on the road toward equity,” she wrote regarding the incidents at Missouri and Ithaca. “I know there are many people on those and other campuses — and in the broader community, too — feeling discouraged and I hope it will spur us all toward reflective action.”

Lisker wrote that she admired the Smith community’s commitment toward social justice and said she and other administrators have been working to try to make sure that no such racially charged incidents occur at Smith.

“We all know that no campus is immune and that we have to work on these issues daily,” she wrote, adding that everyone in the community must actively participate.

“I am actually quite pleased and shocked that Donna Lisker came. I know that in a lot of ways, Smith’s administration needs to change, but I think her support was definitely a step in the right direction,” said Fowlkes-Witten.

As for the next steps for addressing racism on the Smith campus, Fowlkes-Witten said, “I think a lot of fighting back involves the little every day fights: speaking up for — as opposed to speaking for or speaking against — people of color in classrooms, hiring more faculty of color, and simply listening to students of color on campus who are trying to live and be students just like their white peers and allies.”

Fowlkes-Witten added, “But this doesn’t end here ... It goes back with you. It goes back to your houses, it goes back to your classes, and I urge you to keep talking.

“It does not end here and should not end here ... People of color are scared, and we should not have to be scared,” she said.


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