“People Are Fired Up and Ready to Go”—BU Students React to Protests
Campus leaders plan outreach and call to action, hundreds attend virtual Howard Thurman Center chat
“We are tired, we have waited, it’s time for actual structural change.”
“It is a beautiful thing to see young activists going out and leading with conviction.”
“People are fired up and ready to go.”
These are just a few of the sentiments—anger, sadness, even shame, but also hope—expressed by Boston University students as both peaceful and violent protests continue to simmer and boil around the country more than a week after George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. By Monday night, at least 75 cities, including Boston and Providence, had seen violent protests, and some mayors and governors around the country issued mandated curfews. President Trump’s vow to deploy the military in cities if the protests continued—which critics quickly clarified that he does not have the authority to do—only fanned the flames on Monday night.
The protesting moved into the social media realm Monday evening with a movement called Blackout Tuesday. On Instagram, people, including many BU students and alums, posted black squares on their feeds, and then committed to not posting for the rest of the day, to express solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests.
BU President Robert A. Brown sent a letter Monday addressing both the protests and the reopening of campus this fall. But some students, staff, and alumni felt the University’s response took too long and didn’t go far enough, judging by the more than 550 passionate responses left on BU’s official Instagram page.
“What ACTIONABLE STEPS will you be taking to combat systemic racism toward Black students?” one user asked, echoing similar comments left by peers.
Tuesday, BU’s African American Studies Program issued a statement that said, in part: “And though we decry violence, we will not distinguish between lawful and unlawful protest. Why? Because it is now impossible to distinguish between lawful and unlawful given the state-sponsored murder of black people and an administration that is openly corrupt and nakedly indifferent to Black life. …we insist that the University itself advocate for discernible action… This is a time to act boldly and in doing so reimagine and protect community…” Read the full statement here.
On Monday afternoon, the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground hosted an almost three-hour special edition of its Coffee and Conversation discussion series focusing on the protests. The event, held over Zoom, was open only to students; 300 attended from around the world. After the event, Stephanie Tavares (CAS’21), president of Umoja, BU’s black student union, said she was inspired by her fellow students and happy to be in that open-discussion type of setting again.
Tavares believes these protests have been a long time coming; she attended Boston’s event on Sunday night, but left before it grew violent. “There’s a lot of tension, and there’s trauma from generations past,” she says. “With the president we have now, things are not changing, people are just upset, it’s hitting its peak. This is the time to take action—we’ve done the peaceful protest, done the legislative thing. Violence and riots aren’t great, but people want to see tangible action. There are a lot of emotions, we are tired, we have waited, it’s time for actual structural change.”
One way she’s helping Umoja in its efforts to bring about change is by co-running a GoFundMe campaign with Student Government and other BU student organizations, which they have asked the University to match. By Tuesday morning, the group had raised more than $54,000, with funds going towards Black Visions Collective, Campaign Zero, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Derrick Lottie (Questrom’21) attended the protest in Atlanta on Friday, and says while things started out peaceful, the situation quickly escalated. Within 15 minutes, it became unsafe. He left by the time police officers started throwing tear gas in attempts to break up the crowd.
“The general mood is that the black community is discontent with not being heard,” Lottie says. “Time and time again we see people lose their lives when they have not done anything wrong. We are fed up and unafraid, and it is a beautiful thing to see young activists going out and leading with conviction. We have to apply pressure to this system if we want to see things change.”
Archelle Thelemaque (COM’21) says she’s doing her part in the cause by writing, donating, and sharing as much information as possible. “The mood is intense and devastating, but people are fired up and ready to go,” she says. “This is the first time I’ve seen people call for more than words and demand action. It is refreshing, but it also reflects the gravity of what is happening in the world. It’s not only black people who are demanding justice—it’s everyone. George Floyd was the last drop in the ocean before it flooded, and now people are ready for action at all levels.”
Thelemaque, now at home in Georgia, adds that she’s in several group chats where friends have been sharing what protests look like in their cities. “It’s not a pretty picture,” she says. “Folks are getting hurt in the name of justice. It’s sobering.”
Simeon Webb (COM’21) is a member of the Howard Thurman Center’s Brothers United, a group that works to strengthen bonds between men of color on campus. From his home in Georgia, he says that Brothers United came together Sunday night, joined by some BU professors and staff, to talk about the recent victims of police brutality—Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, among others—and how those tragedies made them feel, and how black communities are affected by policing.
Amos Mwaura (CAS’22), who is from Kansas City but is spending the summer in Boston, says it’s important to recognize why this is a unique situation, and he urges his fellow students who are asking what they can do to help educate themselves on racial inequalities to consume information, and above all, to have uncomfortable conversations. If you know a black student, ask questions about their experience and listen, he says. But recognize if they don’t want to engage or don’t feel comfortable sharing—that’s OK, too.
“Recognize that this is not a one-week issue,” Mwaura says. “I’ve seen so many posts on social media regarding police brutality and the death of George Floyd. This is a good thing, as the posts share valuable information, but what about next week? Next month? Election Day? Next year? This is an ongoing discussion, not a social media trend. We must remain consistent when addressing this issue until we reach a better solution.”
Want to continue the discussion? Here are two events happening this week:
- Umoja is hosting a virtual town hall on Wednesday, June 3, at 5 pm. Students, staff, and faculty are welcome to attend. Find the Zoom link here.
- BU Diversity & Inclusion is hosting a series of virtual conversations to address broader societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first in the series is titled Mental Health, Race, and COVID-19, and will be held on Thursday, June 4, from 11 am to 12:30 pm. RSVP here. Panelists include David Henderson, a BU School of Medicine professor and chair of psychiatry and assistant dean for diversity and multicultural affairs; Carrie Landa, director of Behavioral Medicine at Student Health Services; Kristin Long, a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences; and Lisa L. Moore, an associate professor of social work and family studies at St. Olaf College.