By Grace Apostol
On Wednesday, Sept. 7, President of the Black Student Union and senior at Washington College Mariama Keita sent a school-wide email from BSU regarding recent racist incidents targeting Black students.
“On Wednesday, August 17, 2022 a group of Black students were harassed on campus grounds by a person in a white truck by the roads near the campus green,” the email said. “On Saturday, August 27, 2022, a Black student was recorded by a person in a white truck by the crosswalk who then sped off. On Tuesday, August 30, 2022, a person in a white truck yelled a racial slur at a Black student on the Caroline crosswalk.”
According to the email, there were additional incidents that were reported but are not being shared publicly.
Associate Director of Career Development and BSU’s Advisor Lisa Moody helped to guide this statement that was sent out by Keita via email and social media.
“There were things that were happening at a pretty rapid pace, since we had only been on campus a couple weeks, that [Keita] felt that some call needed to go out bringing attention to what was being experienced,” Moody said.
This is not BSU’s first call to action on campus. According to the BSU page on WC’s website, BSU held a protest in 2020 where students marched down the Cater Walk to hold a sit-in at Spring Convocation in the Alonzo G. and Virginia Gent Decker Theater.
“A few days later, student leaders of BSU, Cleopatra’s Sisters, African Student Union, Honor Board, and Student Government Association issued “A Letter of Grievances and Demands” calling for the creation of a centralized safe space, mandated diversity trainings, and the hiring of a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” the website said.
Also. during the 2022 spring semester, BSU held a protest outside the Casey Academic Center on Martha Washington Square.
Keita, who was a major contributor of the BSU statement, was alarmed to hear that multiple incidents of this kind were occurring. “I thought that the College…needs to be aware of what’s currently going on in our community,” Keita said.
BSU Secretary junior Hailey Sutton said that the BSU was not initially going to make a statement after hearing of just the first incident.
“We did not have an intention of releasing a statement until it became clear that it was not just one racial bias incident that happened,” Sutton said. “It seemed to be happening to all minorities, freshman to seniors included. We felt after hearing the third or fourth one that it was time to address what the college was not addressing. It was time to make sure that these incidents were not going to be brushed away again.”
Moody was also a part of creating this message, advising Keita in aspects of language and message.
“I read the letter, and talked to her about language, to ensure that what she was trying to accomplish was accomplished, without directing it as a sweeping generalization about the institution itself,” Moody said. “To try to make sure that it really focused on how they were feeling, to continue to keep the confidentiality of the people who had been impacted.”
After the message was sent out, other individuals and organizations followed suit to stand with the BSU, including President of the College Dr. Mike Sosulski.
In an email sent by President Sosulski on Friday, Sept. 16, it was said that a meeting had taken place on Sept. 9 with members of the College and local representatives on how to move forward.
“It was a good meeting with a number of action steps that I will share, but one of the most important themes expressed at the meeting was that the College needs to do more to earn the trust and confidence of our BIPOC students,” the email said. “…I know that it will only be through action that the College can regain the trust crucial to building a genuinely inclusive campus.”
Regarding the responses from the campus community to the BSU message, Keita feels there is much support, but that statements aren’t meaningful unless there is tangible action behind them.
Sutton echoed this sentiment.
“I feel great that so many people responded to the email in the way they did,” Sutton said. “It shows the respect that they have for us not only as a club but as students on this campus. But words are one thing, actions and following through are another.”
When it does come to students who have been victimized, there are several outlets and resources for them to use.
According to Moody, students can talk to their Resident Advisor, their Peer Mentor, a faculty member they trust, the Executive Board of BSU, or Moody herself.
Within the BSU statement, it was asked of professors to be “mindful and accommodating” to students. Moody believes that the community needs to make sure all students are supported.
“If they find something is out of order…make sure that it is reported, and then…make sure the student understands that they are a welcomed part of this community,” Moody said.
Keita believes that the student body should respond to these incidents, as well.
“Just being supportive with events, [BSU] hosts them and it’s not limited to only Black students,” Keita said. “We’ve said it a million times before, but then the same outcome still happens. There’s been changes, and we have had people from different communities come around, but we want that support to be there consistently.”
Moody also said that the process of discussion on punishment to perpetrators is in the works as well.
“We are in the process of discussing making sure that when someone does offend, that we make sure that the punishment for that infraction meets the [gravity] of what has occurred…We need to make sure people think twice about offending,” Moody said.
This call to change statement is a hope of BSU and the College community to see action and “community dialogue” long after the graduation of current students, according to Keita.
“Students are students. I think that every student deserves to have the same type of experience at WC as the next student,” Moody said. “To spend your time advocating for the right to just be a student and to enjoy that opportunity, takes away from a person’s experience.”
Photo Courtesy of Mariama Keita
Washington College’s Black Student Union is open to all students to come and support and attend meetings