BLM organizers march for change: Tension, discussion over ‘demands’ follows week-long conference
Written by Sarah Smith|
April 4, 2017
After a week consisting of a candlelight vigil, a conversation on environmental racism and a march across campus that ended with the organizers of the 2017 Black Lives Matter Conference meeting with College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley, the organizers have received pushback from conservative news outlets, students and alumni for presenting their “demands” to Reveley.
Damiana Dendy ’17, one of the six conference organizers, said that regardless of the pushback, she believes that the conference was successful in its three-part goal of educating, agitating and organizing on campus.
I feel that we were successful in this goal based on the sheer number of people who told me personally that they left our events thinking about these various issues in a different light,” Dendy said.
“I feel that we were successful in this goal based on the sheer number of people who told me personally that they left our events thinking about these various issues in a different light,” Dendy said. “We especially wanted to drive home these goals through our submission of our 10-point plan to the College administration. We drafted up these 10 points, which are extraordinarily similar to the recommendations put forth by our Task Force on Race and Race Relations, with the intention of presenting to the president our case for further progress to be made regarding diversity education.”
The 10-point list of demands included creating a diversity education requirement in the COLL curriculum, hiring more faculty of color, increasing funding for multicultural organizations and instituting a zero-tolerance policy for incidences of racism.
During the meeting, Reveley questioned the student organizers’ use of the word “demands” for their 10-point plan. Additionally, the use of the word resulted in an article published by The Blaze headlined “Black Lives Matter students get schooled by college president: ‘I don’t deal in demands’.”
“I don’t deal in demands,” Reveley said. “I don’t make demands of other people. I don’t expect to receive demands from people. I love to get suggestions, recommendations, strong arguments that, if something in one sphere or another, doesn’t move, consequences, the lost opportunities would be significant. But really, when you approach other people with a demand, instead of their ears opening and their spirit being unusually receptive, you get defensive walls erected. So I think you all ought to think about it, because you’re not everybody. You’re William and Mary students.”
Another BLM student organizer, Erica West ’17, who also serves as the Student Assembly Secretary of Diversity Initiatives, said that the source of the pushback is a livestream video, which sparked the article in The Blaze, and others in the Daily Caller and Truth Revolt. West, who was named in the articles, said that she has received “hate messages” on Facebook and in comments.
“I have even seen people I have known for years at the College sharing these articles, not to raise awareness of what happened, but rather in support of their skewed portrayal of the events,” West said. “I am responding to it by working with fellow organizers to plan next steps and mobilize our supporters. Since BLM began, there’s been several instances of student activism that resemble what we did — those students and sometimes the larger student population they advocated for also received hate, though unlike us, they also got outside media coverage.”
Dendy said that this dialogue over the use of the word “demand” and other instances from the organizers’ meeting with Reveley could be characterized as pushback against their initiatives.
“Although that was expected, the lack of knowledge the president exhibited regarding the issues facing our campus and country was particularly striking,” Dendy said. “He displayed a basic misunderstanding of what the goals of our plan were and furthermore did not seem to believe that education itself is a viable solution to alleviating racial tensions. He repeatedly changed focus from the challenges that black students and students of color face on campus to the challenges faced by students who are afraid to speak on issues of diversity, which we would argue would be alleviated by the enactment of our 10-point plan. He invalidated the identities of the students of color in the room, myself included, when he stated that racial issues could disappear once we are all the same color through interracial marriage.”
Following the march and the meeting in Reveley’s office in the Brafferton, Reveley said in a statement that he, and other administrators, welcome conversations about race at the College. He also said that he believes racial discrimination is unacceptable at the College.
“We welcome ongoing conversations about race at William & Mary,” Reveley said in a written statement. “Where we can do better, we should. We must also be able to engage in open and meaningful dialogue. I very much appreciate the time and work of the students who met with me for nearly 90 minutes on Wednesday about ways to improve the racial climate at William & Mary. Many items on their list are consistent with the recommendations that came last spring from our Task Force on Race and Race Relations. And many have already produced results or are in the planning stage. While we have made progress, there remains much to be done. We must do more. Racial discrimination at William & Mary is flatly unacceptable. We all have a role to ensure that our university is a place where everyone is welcome and respected and where we can and do learn from one another.”
University spokesperson Brian Whitson also said that Reveley cares about students of color and improving the racial climate at the College.
The president cares very much about students of color and improving the racial climate at William & Mary,” Whitson said in an email.
“The president cares very much about students of color and improving the racial climate at William & Mary,” Whitson said in an email. “This is why he formed a task force on race and race relations, why the university took immediate actions last year and why the president has said we have more work to do.”
Last April, the Task Force on Race and Race Relations presented their finalized recommendations to the College’s Board of Visitors. The prioritized recommendations included furthering efforts to recruit and retain diverse faculty and students, furthering efforts to memorialize diverse historical figures — which resulted in renaming the Jamestown residence halls to Lemon and Hardy halls — and examining issues that impact the predominantly African-American facilities management staff.
Dendy said that she and other organizers are aware of the progress that has been made, and that the successes — particularly the naming of Hardy and Lemon halls — were addressed in their meeting with Reveley.
“We all love this institution and know that it can be better and also be on the right [side] of history in pushing for education that values all peoples,” Dendy said.
Moving forward, Dendy said that the organizers will meet with diversity officers from the Task Force to work together. Then, she said she hopes to meet with Reveley again to follow up on progress. She said that BLM organizers have received support from current students, community members and alumni as well.
“The most important takeaway for me is that change is difficult and the internet is brutal, but support is here,” West said in an email. “The vast majority of the student body appears ready for the changes we are advocating for. It’s just a matter of whether or not our administration will be truly #ForTheBold and take the necessary strides to enact them.”