Chestertown Unites Against Racism and WC Student Government Association host community dialogue

By Erica Quinones

News Editor

Another installment of community dialogues regarding race in Chestertown was hosted by Chestertown Unites Against Racism, and the Washington College Student Government Association, on April 21.

The dialogue was co-hosted by Bayside H.O.Y.A.S. Founder John Queen and SGA Secretary of Service and Community Relations sophomore Maegan White, and it engaged Chestertown residents and WC students alike.

The conversation series is part of Chestertown’s 16-month plan, Chestertown Unites Against Racism. The plan consists of three primary pillars — education, legislation, and unification. The event falls under the “education” pillar.  

Topics of conversation included reflections on the effects of the Black Lives Matter murals which were painted in Chestertown on Sept. 12 and Sept. 19; reactions to the George Floyd case verdict; the resignation of mayor Chris Cerino; and next steps for the Chestertown community. 

Reactions to the Black Lives Matter murals were varied, although many reflected the sentiments shared at the Sept. 28 “We Love This Place” panel — that the murals are only symbolic.

“We were able to say ‘yay, we did it too,’ and that was it,” Chestertown resident Katherine Buchanan said. “It was something to look at. It’s there. I don’t feel like it absolutely changed a thing; it was just symbolic.”

Sophomore Jonah Nicholson said he felt the mural was performative, and “didn’t see any substance behind it. I just didn’t see any point to it, because I believe more action could be done than just painting murals.”

Other participants said that despite the mural’s performativity, it was a sign of change and dedication to addressing racial issues in Chestertown by the town leadership.

However, the general consensus was that more action is needed beyond the mural.

White said that she hopes the mural does not become “a safety blanket” that the white community members “hide under for the rest of your life”; rather, said the community must “keep going up. You got to keep climbing, got to keep doing better.” 

Similar feelings centered around the April 20 guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin — the former Minneapolis police officer who is convicted of the manslaughter, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder of George Floyd.

While participants agreed that the verdict was good and overdue, many also expressed skepticism over the verdict’s ability to grant justice or systemic change.

Ward 1 Councilman David Foster said that what “had significance to me is that we finally had other police speaking out against Derek Chauvin. It was a crack in the Blue Wall of silence. And I felt that was a significant step forward. There are wonderful policemen out there, but if they are afraid to speak out against their own, we have very serious problems.”

However, other participants like sophomore and Treasurer of the Class of 2023 Dylan Snow said, “one guilty verdict isn’t going to fix the whole system of racism and white supremacy.”

“Why should I be excited?” Dean of Library and Academic Technology Mary Alice Ball said. “Is it really going to stick? Is it really going to indicate change? It feels like we’ve been here before, and I hope people don’t get complacent with one case where a police officer was held accountable.”

Black participants added that the verdict did not change the fear they have for family members, friends, or themselves when interacting with police officers. 

“I still feel angry,” Chief Academic Technology Officer Sharon Sledge said. “None of this stops me from worrying about my nephews when they get stopped by police. None of this makes me feel better inside. I’m glad Chauvin is going to prison, I’m glad he was found guilty, but the pain I feel is still real and raw.”

Beyond the verdict’s ability to spark systemic change, participants like White said that accountability is not justice.

Regarding an April 21 email from the President’s Office which said, “the verdict is a step towards justice, for one person, for Black Americans, and for all Americans,” White said that fellow students felt the email conflated justice with accountability. 

Rather, White quoted a student group chat, saying that “justice would have been [Floyd] being alive.”

“The verdict is guilty, great: George Floyd is still dead,” Buchanan said.

Another major topic of the night was Cerino’s April 7 resignation. He resigned via letter, citing the negative effects that the job has on his mental and physical health.

Foster said that he felt part of what led to the resignation was the town’s “lagging behind on the ‘unites’ part [of Chestertown Unties Against Racism]. We as a community have not figured out how to disagree without casting the others as the enemy.”

Participants expressed sorrow over his resignation, White saying that “he [Cerino] treated me like I was an equal, and he genuinely cared about the concerns of students. One of my first thoughts when I heard about his resignation…was that the students just lost an advocate.”

While White described Cerino as a student advocate, and he was later called a people advocate in general, there was some concern about the disconnect between town leadership and the College.

Nicholson said because he only interacted with Cerino at big events, he never knew him as an individual, causing him to ask for “which students” did he advocate.

Senior Izzy Sansanelli discussed the feeling of disconnect between the College and town.

As a student who lives in town, she said she experiences “a little bit of a duality of living in town and at home.”

“Although we want to be a part of the community, we are only this community for four years. I think that hurts a lot of students. We talked about revolving faculty, revolving leadership; we have ever revolving student bodies too,” Sansanelli said.

While the town and College alike are seeing major changes, and participants continue pushing for substantial changes to address systemic racism, Queen said that “the town of Chestertown is leading.”

“They have an action plan, and they also are starting to do things that no one else has done before 2020,” Queen said. “How many times have you seen this many Black people in a meeting like this? How many times have you seen this many young people? So, Chestertown gets a lot of kudos putting the citizens of their town in a position to make change together.”

Featured Photo caption: John Queen (pictured) co-hosted the community dialogue with SGA Secretary of Service and Community Relations sophomore Maegan White, leading the Chestertown and Washington College communities through conversations on race, accountability, and justice. Photo by Sammy Jarrett.

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