Students hold walkout with Rev. Jesse Jackson demanding University action against racism

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 - 6:02pm

Nearly a thousand people gathered on the Diag and marched through University of Michigan buildings for a student walk-out protest against racism on campus following President-elect Donald Trump’s upset win Wednesday afternoon, briefly shutting down traffic. 

The walkout, which was organized by the student organization Students4Justice, was also attended by civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson and was part of a national movement of walkouts across the country. 

“This walkout is a national movement that is happening in response to the election, as well as the increase in hate crimes and other forms of violence against marginalized (folks).” the event description says. “We are doing this to hold President Schlissel and our Regents at the University of Michigan accountable for their claims of valuing diversity and student safety and well-being.”

Prior to the event, Students4Justice also released a list of demands that they hoped to achieve from the protest.

The demands include calls for University action to protect underrepresented minority students by re-channeling resources, as well as a call for the University to become an immigrant sanctuary site, to double its commitment to rejecting racial harassment, to divest from unethical corporations and to remove all symbols and fliers associated with the alt-right movement and those encouraging white supremacy.

LSA junior Lakyrra Magee, one of the event organizers, highlighted the call to make the University a sanctuary campus — a designation that would empower the University to limit institutional cooperation with federal immigration officers seeking undocumented students— as among the most significant demands.

“Our main message was this: Because President Schlissel came out and said he cared about diversity and marginalized students, we are here to show so many students at the University, people who are living in Ann Arbor, support the University of Michigan becoming a sanctuary campus,” she said. “And if President Schlissel really cared about (protecting) marginalized students, this is one concrete way he can do it besides showing up.”

Protesters also cited a number of recent campus concerns during the walkout, including the two hate crimes in downtown Ann Arbor that have been reported to police since Trump’s presidential win last week. On Friday, a woman was threatened and forced to remove her hijab. On Saturday, a woman was pushed down a hill and verbally harassed. Additionally, many speakers discussed anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim posters, many of them promoting themes of white supremacy, that have been found posted on campus several times in the past few months.

LSA junior Alyiah Al-Bonijim spoke to the crowd about her frustrations with Islamophobic comments triggered by her choice to wear a hijab.

“For what? Because you want to see my hair? Is that what is important to these fucking white people?” Al-Bonijim asked the cheering crowd, saying that forcing a woman to take off her clothing, including the hijab, was sexual assault.

Protesters also touched on the failure of a Central Student Government resolution Tuesday night to divest from corporations that have allegedly committed human rights violations against Palestinians. Many in the crowd yelled negative chants about CSG during the walkout. 

Following their initial assembly on the Diag at 3 p.m., with many students walking directly out of classes, the protesters marched throughout Central Campus, also entering buildings and encouraging others to join them.  

As the march moved through campus, student organizers, as well as Jackson, led the crowd in a number of chants condemning racism, sexism, islamophobia and xenophobia.

Chants included slogans such as: “No justice, no peace,” “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, these racist folks have got to go,” “No Alt-Right, no KKK, no fascist USA” and “Black Lives Matter.”

“Thanks for stepping up and fighting back,” Jackson told the crowd. “Do not let any election oppress your dreams … Red, yellow, black and white, you are all precious in God’s sight. We must learn to live together. This land is a land of multiculturalism.”

Chanting with the crowd, he expressed solidarity with individuals who have felt marginalized in the past months, including Black, Muslim and Mexican-American students.

“We are all sanctuary,” he said. “We love each other. We care for each other. You take one of us, you must take all of us. We are not going anywhere. This land is our land. We will outlast the meanness, we will outlast hate. We will outlast violence. Love will conquer hate.”

After walking through several buildings, a brief moment of silence was held at Burton Memorial Tower, during which students told stories about their own personal struggles. At the end of the walkout, organizers asked for white supporters to block State Street so protesters could safely gather at Angell Hall for a speakout.

During the protest, white students were asked by organizers to peacefully block the roads and talk to the police to protect the lives of brown and Black people, who organizers said were more likely to be targeted at student gatherings. Rackham student Vikrant Garg, a walkout organizer, asked for a nonviolent protest and for all students involved to march peacefully.

“We see a lot of white folks here,” he said. “We need you on the sidelines to protect us … there are going to be parts where we shut down the street. We need you all to be there to protect us. This is nonviolence, we recognize that violent acts you may commit will, in the end, hurt us the most.”

The walkout is one of the largest events to take place after the election on campus. On election night, an impromptu vigil consisting of roughly 30 students coalesced on the Diag at about 3 a.m., an hour after Trump was declared victorious. The next night, a vigil attended by about 1,000 students took place, during which University President Mark Schlissel and CSG President David Schafer, an LSA senior, called for campus unity and inclusivity. Multiple protests against the president-elect and in reaction to the hate crimes has since occurred. 

At the walkout, LSA junior Victoria Johnson said she came to the event to help draw the administration’s attention about the problems facing minorities on campus.

“These problems have been boiling up for a long time — this isn’t anything new,” she said. “But I think the election, I think what happened, has been tipping the scale. Now these people who have always been against the rights for me and my rights and who I stand as a person, my identity. They feel empowered to speak out and act on these hateful feelings they have. And that’s why I am here, because my rights are at stake. And not just my rights, but my safety. And I feel like it’s important to make the University be held accountable for it all.”

 

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