Students, Faculty and Staff Stand Against Hate

Students, Faculty and Staff Stand Against Hate

All photos courtesy of Hannah Johnston

Wednesday, Feb. 8 provided a warm and sunny atmosphere for Conn’s collective stand of resistance against the toxic national atmosphere created by the Trump administration’s language and actions. The stand, organized by SGA, maintained as its primary purpose “[to provide] a chance for the Conn community to collectively take a stand against bigotry, racism, sexism, islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, oppressive practices against indigenous communities, ableism and all other forms of recently perpetuated hate” according to an email circulated on campus by SGA. Held only a day after arguments were presented to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the constitutionality of the Trump administration’s travel ban, the stand also protested President Trump’s broad use of executive actions. At the beginning of the event, several participants held signs containing messages like “refugees welcome” and “we refuse to be enemies,” among others.

At the start of the stand, all attendees were encouraged to ask fellow demonstrators why they chose to attend the event. When asked, Mary Goulding ‘18 responded: “Too many things, I can’t put it into a sentence,” and Hannah Pepin ‘19 noted: “Everything is suffocating now and it affects us all in so many ways.” Several others echoed these ideas, as many found it hard to find just one thing that brought them to the event.

Other Conn students, however, expressed more specific reasons for standing in solidarity. Many students voiced their ideas by posing on the round stone bench at the top of Temple Green to take turns addressing the crowd. In such an instance, Gerard Lanzano ‘17 posed: “Who is to say that more countries will not be added?” in reference to Trump’s executive order, infamously dubbed the “Muslim ban,” barring people from seven Muslim-majority countries for the time being, and from Syria indefinitely, from entering the United States. The sentiments that Lanzano conveyed were echoed by the messages on several presenters’ signs, many of which spoke to fears for the future of immigration rights.

Caitlin Kay, a Residential Education and Living staff member, later spoke on a different, but likewise controversial, topic. Kay fears that, given the views of Vice President Mike Pence on gay marriage, hard-fought civil rights gains may be compromised by the Trump administration. Referencing a newspaper clipping that she placed on her office wall the day gay marriage was legalized, Kay remarked:  “I’m scared [the newspaper] will have to come down symbolically, even though it will not physically come off of my wall.”

Following Kay, Emma Schlichting ‘17 commented: “I’m scared because racism divided this campus two years ago, and this country is divided now. Remember to stand up for something.” With that statement, Schlichting referred to the events of Spring 2015, a contentious period in the College’s history during which students argued about the implications of anti-Palestinian language publicized by Professor Andrew Pessin on Facebook, vulgar graffiti in Cro revealing hatred toward the black community on campus and the broader issues evidenced by these instances of hate speech.

SGA President Ramzi Kaiss ’17, one of the students who spearheaded the Stand of Collective Resistance and Solidarity efforts, spoke to the event’s specific purpose and timing. “This is a result of students, faculty and staff standing against the Trump administration for a stand of collective resistance as so many of us here at Conn are affected by what’s been going on,” said Kaiss, adding, “I’m here to listen to what’s on people’s minds and to be in solidarity with other groups on campus.” His remarks demonstrate the importance of collaboration across differing causes in order to affect change.

While a majority of signs and comments presented concerned the Trump administration’s recent executive actions, there were also a few posters and speeches about Sean Spicer ‘93, the White House Press Secretary and a Conn alumnus, which denounced Spicer’s execution of his work as a poor reflection of our community and its values.

Speaking in regard to the community values that Spicer has eschewed, Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight emphasized the importance of Conn’s stand  for solidarity. He observed: “I feel a connection to the community here; I have spent many hours on campus. I am concerned for people in this community and the greater community, I am also here for solidarity for people here and around the world.” While McKnight recognized that he has not been at Conn for long, he has gotten to know many students, and he wants to support them and make the campus a better place for everyone. For the Office of the Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion, the stated first purpose of the stand, to demonstrate a resistance to various forms of bigotry, racism and oppression, should be of paramount importance.

The common hour was soon over, and many had to return to their schedules by going to class, work and other obligations, but some of the Stand of Collective Resistance and Solidarity’s attendees stayed out after the stand’s official conclusion to continue talking and collaborating. Those who remained further reflected SGA’s latter goal for the stand, which read in the official campus-wide invitation: “to brainstorm and discuss the next steps that our community needs to take in its fight against all ongoing forms of hatred.” •