On Nov. 19, 2021, the steps of Joseph Vaughn Plaza were filled with students, staff and faculty joined in protest of recent racial bias incidents. These events included the posting of white nationalist stickers and the defacement of several Black Lives Matter flags across campus. At the protest, there was a sea of signs with many messages relating to social justice, but among them were these sentiments: protect Black students, value Black students, hold racism on campus accountable.
The protest was sponsored and organized by Furman Pride Alliance (FPA), Student League for Black Culture (SLBC), and the Furman chapter of the NAACP. Students Miles Baker ’24, Eboni Johnson ’22, Abijah Leamon ’24, Clinton Washington III ’22 and Emily Balogh ’22 all gave speeches in response to the bias incidents. These students shared their disappointment in the Administration’s immobility in response to the bias incidents and called for a more just and equitable campus community.
Balogh, President of FPA, opened speeches by sharing specific student requests from the Administration. “We are asking for weekly updates on this particular bias incident and all others moving forward that are made public by those whom they affect.” She requested for these email updates to include an “enumerated list of specific actions being taken to hold the perpetrators accountable.” Balogh explained that since bias incident cases impact members of our community – and therefore the entire Furman community - the student body deserves “transparency in how these issues are addressed.”
Baker, NAACP president, spoke to the challenges of minority students in the Furman community, especially in light of the recent bias incidents and community reactions. “These incidents have made it even more apparent to me that it is hard to be a part of this community if these things are accepted and tolerated… in the way that our administration has allowed them to continue to occur.” Baker also explained that the Administration should listen closely, as student participation in the protest indicates the “ideas and values” of students.
Johnson, a member of SLBC, spoke to the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement within the context of incarceration disparities. "When I say ‘Black lives matter,’ it emphasizes that all lives matter. Because the criminal justice system has forgotten that Black lives do matter,” explained Johnson. “For the 80% majority of students on this campus, your lives have always mattered,” shared Johnson, referencing the approximate proportion of white students on campus. “It hasn’t always been that way for the people who look like me. They said liberty and justice for all, and that’s really all we’re asking for,” Johnson concluded.
In her speech, Leamon emphasized that each individual community member has a “purpose in this world and on this campus.” She then shared her personal reaction to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ flags being altered to read ‘All Lives Matter.’
“When I see the term ‘All Lives Matter,’ I think that people do not care about the pleas, cries, and demands of Black people. Advocating for justice and equality should not be addressed by society as a political agenda. Our voices being heard, and our bodies being protected… should be a standard for humanity, to care for each other.”
Washington (pictured below), Vice President of NAACP, demanded more student involvement in bias incidents moving forward. “We can focus on the way we change [racism] moving forward and how we address it,” Washington explained. “When students submit a bias incident report, it should not take us being out here, but we should be included in the conversation immediately.”
It is clear that students are not satisfied with the Administration's response and communication regarding the recent bias incidents. Many students are hurt by these events on campus – and the protest Friday afternoon gave those students a platform to express their hurt, a chance for the community to offer support, and feedback for the Furman Administration moving forward.