Hundreds of students gathered in Hahn Plaza Thursday afternoon to rally against racial discrimination and stand in solidarity with the students of the University of Missouri and other campuses across the nation.
The rally followed a series of racially tense conflicts at the University of Missouri in which black students received death threats for speaking out against racism. Since then, the University of Missouri’s president resigned after students protested, one student went on a hunger strike and the football team refused to play in upcoming games.
The Black Student Assembly hosted the rally. Though the event was announced on Facebook Wednesday evening, more than 700 people said they were attending on the social media site by the morning of the event.
The event’s Facebook page called for students to dress in all-black attire and come prepared to support the students of Missouri with chants such as “When student voices are under attack, what do we do? Stand up! Fight back!” and “Ain’t no power like the power of the students ’cause the power of the students don’t stop.”
Mykaila Williams, executive director of BSA, kicked off the rally by explaining the situation in Missouri.
“Now, the students of the University of Missouri are not alone in their efforts to fight for justice,” Williams said. “Yale University students are fighting against racism within their fraternities and racial discrimination on campus. Berkeley students are protesting after a message on KKK and lynching was left on a public computer … At USC, we hope that most of you are aware of the campus climate resolution, which is our own attempt to stimulate change around diversity issues on campus.”
Williams said the demonstration contributes to a country-wide message.
“We’re holding this rally today in conjunction with student activists around the country who are wearing black to stand in solidarity with black students at Missouri,” she said.
After her opening speech, Williams opened up the floor to anyone who wanted to share his or her experience with racism or had something to share on the issue.
Omete Anassi, a senior majoring in neuroscience, recited a poem he wrote about his feelings on the racism black students experience.
“The reason I did the poem was to show that there is positivity in what we’re doing and that there’s a solution, which is to listen to each other,” Anassi said. “That is why I ended my poem with, ‘OK, I’m listening,’ which is to say I’m not just going to shout up your front door and complain about my issues, but I’m going to sit down with you and hope to connect as humans.”
Richard Alives said the University’s expansions in the surrounding neighborhoods in University Park, which consist of a population predominantly made up of underprivileged minority groups, hinders those residents.
“USC is buying the homes of people of color who have worked hard to own the homes that they live in, that are now being taken over by student housing,” Alives said. “I am here because this institution will not accept that it gentrifies.”
Williams and other leaders from BSA had the gathered students read printouts of racist Yik Yak posts made at USC and Missouri, which some wore on their chests and backs.
One post said, “I love it when black girls do white girl things like shut the f*ck up and have real hair.”
The gathered students then posed for photos with handmade signs that spelled out “USC fights on 4 Mizzou” and “Racism lives @ Mizzou, Ithaca, Yale, USC. Everywhere.”
After the rally, the students headed to Bovard Auditorium to hand President C. L. Max Nikias a letter written by the BSA about the need for change at USC.
“The letter spoke about the campus climate resolution and to a lesser extent about our solidarity with Missouri,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, Nikias was not [at Bovard], and I’m not sure who the woman was that we met with, but she was part of [Guest Relations].”
That prompted a chant of “I’m not a guest, I’m a student” by the remaining attendees. After a few minutes of chanting, Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry came out of his office to address the students.
“Right now is not appropriate for the provost to attempt to meet with 200 students,” Carry said in response to demands for a meeting to discuss the recently passed resolution on campus climate. “The provost and I would be glad to meet with 10 or 15 representatives today or tomorrow or whenever you’d like to meet.”
Further negotiations with Carry resulted in a meeting being planned to address students’ concerns.
Earlier this week, the Undergraduate Student Government voted, 11-1, in favor of sending a proposal to the administration that would address diversity issues on campus.
The meeting students proposed allowed the resolution’s authors to talk to the administration on making sure the points in the resolution are soon addressed, and also let other students listen in on the conversation.
Moira Turner, director of Diversity Affairs for USG, said the resolution focuses on implementing potential solutions to campus climate concerns.
“The campus climate resolution tries to tackle a lot of things,” Turner said. “It tries to localize itself around discrimination on campus, which can manifest itself in a lot of different ways, whether in regards to racism, sexism, sexuality and ability. We’re demanding a vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Corliss Bennett-McBride, the director of the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, was impressed with the demonstration’s turnout but not surprised.
“What I like about USC students, especially my students, is [that] they are about action,” Bennett-McBride said. “When I walked up to the rally and saw around 500 students gathered, I noticed that there were students of all backgrounds. Everybody was there. Students turned out to show the students at Missouri that we support them and stand in solidarity with them through the terrible circumstances they’re going through right now.”
Bennett-McBride said she was overjoyed with the students’ actions.
“I just want my students to know that I am so proud of them for standing up for the students at Missouri,” said Bennett-McBride, tearing up as she spoke.
A meeting was ultimately held between the authors of the campus climate resolution, Provost Michael Quick and Carry in the United University Church at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday. Students were encouraged to attend.