On Monday evening, hundreds of Bates students came together on Garcelon Field to take a photo demonstrating their solidarity with students in the Concerned Student 1950 movement at the University of Missouri. Students there are currently protesting racism and racial prejudice on the part of that school’s administration. An estimated 250 to 300 students, staff, faculty, and community members attended the event at Bates—organizers were pleased with the strong show of student and institutional support for those speaking out against racism on college campuses across the nation.
Since November 2nd, students at the University of Missouri have been protesting the continued presence of blatant and institutional racism towards black students, condemning Mizzou’s administration for ignoring these issues. Leading the charge in these protests is the organization called Concerned Student 1950, which takes its name from the year that University of Missouri first accepted a black student. While the protests had been previously circling on certain social media circles, they became a nationwide news topic last weekend when Mizzou’s football team, led by at least 30 black football players, threatened to boycott all football activities unless student demands were met. Protests eventually pushed the school’s president to resign.
On social media, students and student groups on campuses throughout the country have been issuing declarations, photos and videos expressing support and solidarity with the student protesters at Mizzou. Bates students decides to express their support as well.
A Facebook event titled #BatesStandWithMizzou, was created on Wednesday, November 11th. “On Monday, November 16th at 5pm, we as a campus will show our support and solidarity with these students by taking a photo on Garcelon Field holding a large banner that will read: “#BatesStandsWithMizzou.” The event was organized by a small group of students that included Rakiya Mohamed ’18, Raegine Mallett ’18, Annakay Wright ’17, Rachel Chappell ’18, Kenyata Venson ’18, Monet Blakey ’17, Yara Abdelhady ’17, and Ayesha Sharma ’18.
The majority of the action was directed by Rakiya Mohamed ’18, from Auburn, ME. Wielding a megaphone, Mohamed welcomed the increasingly large group to the event, and directed arrivals to cluster around the 50-yard line in front of the bleachers, where another student organizer stood with a camera. Other students helping to organize the event were directing arrivals to sign their names on a large and colorful banner that read “#BatesStandsWithMizzou,” and beneath it, “#ConcernedStudent1950.” The banner was so covered in names that little white space was visible.
When it came time to take the photo, Mohamed kicked off the demonstrating by shouting into the megaphone, “Make some noise for yourselves!” eliciting a large roar in response from the crowd. “We are here because we at Bates feel like Black students at Mizzou need our support, need some love right now,” she said. Alluding to instances of violence and racism that have rocked the world over the past five days, Mohamed added, “there are a lot of places that need some love right now.” Shortly thereafter, the banner was brought to the front row of the crowd, Mohamed advised participants to have serious faces during the picture, and said “If you want to put your fist up, put your fist up.”
The demonstration had broad support from all quarters of the Bates community. In addition to the large number of students, there were many faculty and staff in the crowd as well. Organizer Yara Abdelhady ‘18 said she was “definitely pleased with the turnout. It’s heartwarming to see this turnout.” President Clayton Spencer was present, along with administrators from the Office of Intercultural Education, Office of Campus Life, the Athletic Department and Admissions. Phyllis Graber Jensen from the Communications Office was on the bleachers taking photos along with one of the student organizers. The megaphone used by Mohamed was provided by the Athletic Department.
The Bates Football team played a particular role in the demonstration. After most of the crowd had departed, a large contingent of the football team, along with coaching staff, crowded around the banner to take a picture. Mohamed told The Student that originally she had talked to one person on the football team, Ben Coulibaly ’17, about getting black football players to participate in the demonstration. However, she said that when Coach Mark Harriman heard about the demonstration, he strongly encouraged all of his players to get involved. The demonstration was originally planned for Friday, but was moved to Monday when organizers learned that the Football team was out of town for their final game against Hamilton.
Praising the awareness of many Bates students, but alluding to larger fundamental issues, Mohamed said, “We have a group of people here who are aware of blatant racism, but there’s also institutional racism.” But she expressed optimism about the conversation about race at Bates going forward. “If we had support like this tonight, we can get support like this for other stuff. There are a lot of ways we can influence each other, encourage each other to be respectful.”
Student participants also felt positive about the event. Max Silverman ’16 expressed a hope that this event would spur students to be more involved in social justice movements in the future. “I hope people bring that support beyond this photo-op, and that students continue engaging with social justice movements,” Silverman said.