Students protest last week's racist incidents, block bus routes

Monday, September 25, 2017 - 11:25am

At 10:15 in the morning, the C.C. Little bus station was unusually empty.

In response to the racist graffiti on name tags in West Quad Residence Hall and recent responses from the University of Michigan administration, Black students associated with the #BBUM movement organized barricades on North University Avenue in an effort to halt the bus routes and disrupt the flow of a Monday morning at the University of Michigan.

The demonstration organizers posted non-Black allies at the intersections of Geddes Avenue and Church Street as well as Fletcher Street and North University Avenue just after 9:30 am. Soon after, Ann Arbor police vehicles came to secure the barrier and redirect traffic away from the demonstration.

Black students camped out at the crosswalk in front of the C.C. Little bus station and the Natural History Museum with laptops ready to do homework.

LSA sophomore Travon Stearns, one of the three Black students whose dorm tags were vandalized with a racist slur, could not complete his assignments the day of the vandalism because he had to talk to campus police and respond to other inquiries from media and students. Because of this intrusion into his academic schedule, he said, he wanted to show the students who wrote the remarks and all students who are not involved with the cause what he felt like that day.

“Our mission statement for being here is they inconvenienced me when they wrote the N-word on my door deck,” Stearns said. “My plans for the day were completely ruined so the purpose for us being here is … you inconvenienced me for a day, I’m going to inconvenience you for an hour.”

Organizer Nando Felten, an LSA sophomore, said the protest was taking place in response to the racist graffiti written on his brother’s door in West Quad, but also to protest the name of the building, C.C. Little.

“We’re here today because my brother Travon, they targeted him because of his ethnicity. We’re here today because they stopped us from trying to learn so we’re … trying to study,” Felten said. “Another reason we shut down C.C. Little is because it’s a racist institution. It’s racist.”

The name C.C. Little has been hotly debated in recent months at the University. Earlier this month, a group of University professors and a student submitted an official request to change the name of the building.

“How would if you were going to say, if you were Jewish, and you say, ‘I’m going to Adolf Hitler bus stop.’ That’s not cool,” Felten said. “For Black people, this is not cool because if our great grandparents had to deal with him, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

Students attempting to board the bus lined up at the C.C. Little station en masse, waiting for a bus to take them to North Campus.

Postdoctoral fellow Austin McCoy, a veteran organizer and attendee at the blockade, said the students waiting for the bus were what made the protest so effective in spreading the cause of #BBUM and #SchlisselWya to the entire campus.

“I think (the halting of the bus routes) is part of the lesson: to get other students who may not be thinking about issues of racial inequality to understand how racism inconveniences Black people, especially on campus,” McCoy said.

While most MBuses and city buses could not gain access to the road, the protesters cleared the way for an ambulance halfway through the demonstration.

Felten discussed the number of Black students at the University and how he sees it as a problem, especially in a country with a much higher proportion of Black people.

“There’s not a lot of us here. We can go all day walking on campus and not see another Black person,” Felten said. “This doesn’t really affect us on a physical level but psychologically this does affect us and hurt us.”

Studying on campus can be difficult, Felten said, when there are so few students that look like him.

“You don’t want to study in a space with people that don’t look like you,” Felten said. “I don’t feel safe going to Shapiro because I don’t know how a white person might perceive me. They might just have the gut to say the N-word to me, but I’m going to stay strong. I’m here for a reason, I have a purpose in life.”

North Campus buses such as the Bursley-Baits bus changed their routes to pick up students on Church Street instead of North University Avenue so students could still get to class, but these students still felt Travon’s message and the point of the demonstration.

Engineering senior Dulce Rios was waiting at C.C. Little at the time of the protest for a bus to take her to North Campus. After talking with the Daily, she found out there wouldn’t be a bus coming to the C.C. Little stop.

“I mean, I think the point of protest is to disrupt other people’s daily lives, right?” Rios said. “Because they’re protesting because their daily lives are disrupted so I think they’re being pretty effective if you ask me.”

Other students waiting for buses weren’t as receptive to the action that disrupted bus routes.  

Engineering sophomore Bogdan Manga was waiting for a bus at the time of the protest to get to a class on North Campus.

“I respect what they’re doing but I don’t think the academic process should be impeded because I want to go to class,” Manga said. “I’m fine, I’m not mad or anything.”

Along with the ambulance and a few buses, the protesters also allowed LeRoy Whipple, the owner and operator of the Whips Dog Days hot dog stand, to pass through and set up his cart in front of the Chemistry Building. He said the protesters are allowed to demonstrate and would hold up city buses as well.

“They have the right,” Whipple said. “It’s definitely going to hold the bus systems up and put them behind schedule. The AATA, the ones that run through the city, they can’t get through here, so that’s going to impact the city too.”

About 10:45 am, students at the C.C. Little crosswalk stood up from their homework, gathered themselves in a circle and chanted and sang. After the main demonstrators dispersed, representatives were sent to relieve the allies blocking the major intersections with the police from their posts, signifying the end of the demonstration.

Stearns said the purpose of the protest was not to sit with no purpose and cause stress for those trying to use the buses. He said the constant roadblocks keeping students from classes and doing homework, such as the name tag incident, is what Black students at the University experience every day.

“We’re not just doing this to be jerks or things of that nature,” Stearns said. “We have an end goal in mind. We’re really doing this so you can hear us, hear the issues that we have on this campus. This is what it’s like to study at the University of Michigan.”