By Cassy Sottile and Erica Quinones
Students and faculty gathered in Martha Washington Square to protest discrimination on campus on Dec. 3. The walk-out was meant to inspire the community to embrace everyone in the learning community, celebrate differences, and declare the Washington College campus as a no hate zone.
Senior and Student Government Association Secretary of Diversity and Culture Felicia Attor helped organize the walk-out with Associate Professor of Spanish, Director of the Black Studies Program, and Co-Chair of the Diversity Committee Dr. Elena Deanda-Camacho. The Black Student Union and Washington College Democrats were among student groups that participated and helped organize the walk out.
“A principal reason for the walk out was to show that members of the College community that encounter microaggressions and biases on a daily basis are standing together to demand that this campus create a more inclusive environment to prevent such occurrences,” Attor said.
The idea for the walk out came from the Diversity Committee student representatives who wanted to address the recent tensions both on and off campus, according to Deanda-Camacho.
“The walk out was a civil, peaceful, and collaborative outlet to express their ideas, and to start somehow a sort of healing process,” Deanda-Camacho said.
After gathering in the Martha Washington Square, participants marched to Louis L. Goldstein Hall, crossed to Bunting Hall, then continued to the statue of George Washington on the Campus Green, chanting along the way.
“I stood on one of the brick benches in Martha Washington Square and yelled with the crowd demanding change now,” freshman Jonah Nicholson said. “It felt amazing to … come as one unit and to let everyone know we are here and we are not to be silenced.”
The walk out drew students, faculty, and staff of all races, sexualities, and gender identities. Participants were led by students like Nicholson, some of who chanted while others played instruments.
“I was incredibly surprised, happy, and amazed at the level of support shown from students to students, and from my colleagues, both faculty and staff. It was a special moment for all of us, and hopefully we can have more moments like these, when we all come together as a community,” Deanda-Camacho said.
One chant that spread through the crowd was “Who are we? Washington. What we want? No hate.”
“It felt amazing to realize that we are not alone as we have each other,” junior Gaviota Del Mar Hernandez Quiñones said.
After reaching the Campus Green, the protestors returned to Martha Washington Square where they took up chalk to draw slogans like “No hate” and “Hate can’t sit here.”
As protestors drew, people stood on the lampposts and spoke about bias incidents on campus. Cases spoken about included racism, homophobia, and transphobia.
One such student was Del Mar Hernandez Quiñones, who identifies as a bisexual Afro-Latina.
“My speech emphasized the importance of breaking the silence and speaking up against racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, and all forms of hatred that attack the wellbeing of us as a broader society,” Del Mar Hernandez Quiñones said.
Nicholson said that breaking the silence was what he hoped participants got from the protest. He wants students to make each other aware of their experiences.
“It is not enough that students that face these various racism, microaggression, and other forms of discrimination speak up, it falls on everyone on this campus that notices these acts being perpetuated to speak up as well,” Attor said.
Attor suggested that orientation training should include programs about being an active-bystander to racial incidents, similar to the programs relating to sexual assault and illicit substance violations.
She says that all students on campus should be advocates for change by being active-bystanders for inappropriate actions against members of the WC community or Kent County residents.
According to Attor, most students at WC do not advocate for fellow students because issues of racism and microaggressions do not affect their lives.
“This privilege should not cloud their perspective because this campus is a strong and vibrant community that is projected for greater successes if all students feel safe, feel included, and do not have to deal with the emotional and physical stress of being constantly discriminated against,” Attor said.
Students who are not sure how to navigate being a bystander can reach out to resources like the Intercultural Affairs Office, according to Attor.
For those who witness bias incidents, they can report the occurrence anonymously through the CARE report system.
The protest was followed by an open mic for equity, diversity, and inclusivity at the Rose O’Neill Literary House on Dec. 5. Students were joined by faculty and staff from the President’s Office, Miller Library, Department of Residential Life, Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, and the Lit House. Participants read poetry, excerpts from books, newspaper articles, or their own written work.
According to Deanda-Camacho, the Diversity Committee will have a town hall at the beginning of next semester to bring together students, faculty, and the administration to discuss the challenges the campus community faces and make a plan to move forward.
“Be kind all the time and to everyone. People are hurting and we need to show our kindness at all times,” Deanda-Camacho said.