In the fight for racial justice on campus, 2016 stands in the shadow of 2015. Last November, black students took American higher education by storm—raining demands for dignity and justice, winning, and uniting #BlackLivesMatter with the integration-era struggles of #ConcernedStudent1950.
As Donald Trump’s election brings urgent new threats, students are getting organized. In this post, students from two groups, SOUL at Penn and the high school–focused Youth Blackout DC, report on what’s next. This post is the latest edition of The Nation’s student- and youth-organizing feature, edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
When Will Trump’s Alma Mater Answer for Its Racism?
by Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation
On November 11, several black freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania were added to a racist GroupMe chat, operated by students in Oklahoma, one of whom had been accepted by Penn, threatening them with lynching. As soon as we learned about this, SOUL, alongside the Black Graduate Student and Professional Assembly, began organizing to protest the environment that allowed it to happen—and hold our administration accountable.
At 7 pm, 300 black students and allies assembled in front of Huntsman Hall, where President Amy Gutmann was giving a talk inside. From there, we marched toward Franklin Field during the Penn-Harvard football game.
As we tried to enter the stadium—which only requires an ID for Penn students—security guards and personnel shut the gates on us. Those who tried to enter were physically restrained and sent in circles to other, unavailable entrances. As one student heard an officer say, the point was to wait us out until the end of the game.
After being stuck for an hour, about 100 of us were able to enter in smaller groups. Once inside, we sat together—only to draw the attention of security guards, who targeted our co-chair and tried to get him to leave. After searching his book bag and confirming that his ticket was, indeed, valid, they let us stay. That’s when we began our protest, chanting, “Black lives matter!” and denouncing the students and system that created the racist GroupMe. As we chanted, we stomped on the stands and filed onto the field. Some onlookers joined our chants, others chanted, “Go Trump!”
According to the university’s ongoing investigation, which began the day of the march, the FBI has been looking into the incident, and one of the perpetrators from Oklahoma, a student at Tulsa Community College, has been suspended. Meanwhile, the core issue remains: a system that encourages and normalizes racist behaviors, however covert they might be.