Campus activism ignites awareness

Students occupy the Manor House on Nov. 23. (John Rogers/Pioneer Log)

By ALLIE MCRAITH, JOHN ROGERS, and MEGHAN ZEA

Seventeen days have passed since a series of racist and threatening messages were posted near or on Lewis & Clark College campus through the social media platform Yik Yak. The posts, originally published on Tuesday, Nov.17, ignited outrage within the LC community, resulting in an all-day protest outside of J.R. Howard and Watzek the following day. The protest was organized by a group of LC students with group discussions and activities focusing on ways to diversify curriculum and faculty, use social media advantageously, and understand privilege.

Following the protest, a similarly racially-charged Yik Yak was posted on Friday of that week. Then, early in the morning of Nov. 21, Tanguy Muvuna, a 26-year old LC student from Rwanda and Dallaire scholar, was attacked in the gardens below Frank Manor House. He later reported to Portland Police that three white males of similar height and build aggressively confronted him using racially charged threats before restraining and physically attacking him. Muvuna escaped without serious physical injury and returned to his dorm before contacting school authorities, who in turn called the Portland Police.

Anna Gonzalez, Dean of Students, expressed disappointment with how the Portland Police handled the incidents, especially in regard to the Yik Yak posts.

“I feel both that they want to help and I’m slightly frustrated,” Gonzalez said. “On the one hand, they say they want to help and the investigation is ongoing, but on the other hand it is somewhat frustrating to me that other police in other states have worked with Yik Yak and gotten names… I feel powerless sometimes because I want to help our students but without knowing that name I don’t know what else to do.”

The Lewis & Clark community was notified of the attack at 3 a.m. that same morning via the Provost’s Office. The response around campus was immediate. Beginning just hours after the assault, Lewis & Clark Black Lives Matter (LC BLM) members began working to develop a buddy system in response to the attack and to assure the safety of Black students on and off campus.

The annual interfaith gathering was held that Sunday in the Agnes Flanagan Chapel and was modified in light of the recent events. The gathering was well-attended by LC community members and leaders including President Barry Glassner, who had largely been criticized for his perceived absence from campus following the Yik Yak posts.

By Monday Nov. 23, LC BLM members had developed plans to occupy Frank Manor House, ‘to do the work of the president, in the president’s office.’ On Tuesday morning at 9:30 a.m., a large group of students and alumni entered the Frank Manor House, occupying both the first and second floor.

According to members Raymond Fenton ’16 and Emilie Dultra ’16, “LC BLM is a coalition of students striving for racial justice… [where] members work in coordination to make decisions based on the needs of black and other marginalized students on campus. There are no leaders as we operate based on facilitation and horizontal structure. It is the cause ‘systematic oppression’ that unites us all.”

Shortly after the sit-in began, President Barry Glassner and Dean Catherine Gunther Kodat arrived and addressed the group. President Glassner spoke for a number of minutes before departing to an unknown location. Dean Kodat spoke as well, before sitting down and having individual conversations with LC BLM members.

According to Fenton, Glassner “neglected [them] upstairs as [they] waited with computers dedicated and prepared to work. Nonetheless [they] continued to work on the vision and initiatives like the Racial Justice and Equality Fund in small groups.”

Hours after the sit-in had begun, LC community members gathered in the Council Chamber to listen and show solidarity with Muvuna, who had drafted a statement. His message was one of love and forgiveness, both to the LC community and to his attackers.

“Whatever happened was because I have the skin color. I never asked to be born black. To be black is not a crime,” Muvuna said. “It doesn’t matter if you are black, white or yellow. In my point of view, we are all brothers and sisters.”

As many students left campus for the holiday break, a smaller group of sit-in participants remained. They spent the break “researching the structures and history of executive power at Lewis & Clark College, and focused [their] efforts on plans for outreach, in both the local and broader communities,” Dultra said.

Dean Kodat engages with occupying students. (John Rogers/Pioneer Log)
Dean Kodat engages with occupying students. (John Rogers/Pioneer Log)

Fenton, Black Student Union President and LC BLM member, claims they spent a longer time in the Frank Manor House than any students have before.

“Focus on community support through the break, and the wide array of faces that we’ve seen in the boardroom and lounges in the past two weeks,” Fenton said. “This is unprecedented. Over that time this space has become a familiar one, and as students have rolled out their sleeping bags and blankets in front of the different fireplaces, we have also held roundtable meetings in the boardroom.”’

As students continue their occupation of the Frank Manor House, a question continues to be asked: “Where’s Barry?” According to President Glassner himself, he is doing his job, which often demands travel.

“If the question is where am I, I am all over the place,” said Glassner. “I’m working all sorts of different places and doing my job, which is a very busy job. Talk to my staff and my family, you’ll hear that I work pretty much all the time. Whenever I can I’m getting together with students. I was at the Bon today, the other day. I don’t get that opportunity a lot but I like it when I can. A lot of my work is done on campus, a lot is off-campus, and that’s the nature of being a college president.”

Dean Anna Gonzalez added, “I think the question, ‘Where’s Barry?’ is about a level of communication that [the students] feel may not have happened and I think also a level of the workings of higher education that’s not communicated … I’m hoping that the students are authentic about that question. I really am. I’m going to trust that they are.”

Expectations of the President and administration have been widely discussed over past weeks, with little consensus.

“I know for sure when I was a student that I had no idea what the President does. I didn’t even have any idea what the dean does,” Glassner said. “…I get the sense that sometimes there are some students who aren’t as aware of the nature of Lewis & Clark. There are three schools in Lewis & Clark, I’m the President of the entire institution.

Dean Anna Gonzalez elaborated on the division of roles in higher education.

“The faculty is in charge of curriculum and hiring the faculty with their Dean. The Dean of Students is in charge of making sure that people know about the services for our students and the president is much higher and his job is to work with the Trustees to get us more funding,” Gonzalez said.

Nima Mohamed ‘15, LC BLM member, has a different expectation of her President.

“I expect the president of the college to collaborate with the student organizers who have been occupying the manor house for the past week to truly ‘hear our stories’ and ‘our call to action’ as he said in his email. To date, he has not reached out to any of the student organizers from LC Black Lives Matter … President Glassner does not care about his black students and has ignored us for the past week — actually for as long as I’ve been here [4 years],” Mohamed said.

The question now is what comes next, as at the time of press, students were going on day eight occupying the Frank Manor House.

“I’m seeing more engagement now, more so than two years ago even with Walk the Talk,” said Gonzalez. “I think part of it is a national movement, it’s part of a national conversation about race in America. We took it seriously two years ago, we took it seriously last year, but even more seriously this year.”

Students discuss racial tension on campus and make posters for demonstration on Nov. 18. (Katie Kelly/Pioneer Log)
Students discuss racial tension on campus and make posters for demonstration on Nov. 18. (Katie Kelly/Pioneer Log)

Fenton elaborates on LC BLM’s future plans.

“This is a movement that is going to continue after the semester, and hopefully long past the end of the academic year,” Fenton said. “Systemic and institutional racism cannot be solved in a single semester. While there are only two weeks left in the Fall term, our top priority is still ensuring the safety of students of color on campus and laying the political and social foundation for pursuing larger structural changes in 2016.”

President Glassner shares many of these sentiments.

“…There’s a lot of work for all of us to do. As individuals, as students and instructors, as administrators, as institutions, and our ultimate goal at Lewis & Clark is to make this institution even more safe, welcoming, diverse, inclusive, and equitable. We’ve made a lot of progress in recent years and we’re focused now on even doing more and doing better,” said Glassner.

For some, the changes come too late. After learning of the attack, Sierra Faulkner ’15, a black alumna, was saddened but not surprised by the news.

“My initial reaction to the instances of racism and violence at Lewis & Clark was fear, and deep sadness,” said Faulkner. “I was afraid because many people that I still cared about were still at Lewis & Clark… I was sad that a place that I called my home had escalated to this point… I’m glad action is being taken now, but it’s too late for how I feel about the institution, it’s too late for alums like me to really get over the way we’re treated.”

President Glassner announced that he, in conjunction with the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), is holding an open forum on Monday, Dec 7 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Agnes Flanagan Chapel to discuss and listen to all viewpoints.

“My expectation is that [the forum] will be the best of Lewis & Clark and that we will have civil and really intelligent conversations. And that we’re going to ask lots of questions and probably come up with lots of answers. We have smart students. And we are going to do this together,” Gonzalez said.

“I feel like it’s so bad here that all the other good stuff that is being done is being erased. But we can always do better. There’s always room for improvement,” Gonzalez said.

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