The ground was soaked to mud from an afternoon rain, the air was wet and heavy, as 200 people marched around the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus, and ultimately, through the lobby of Homer D. Babbidge Library Thursday night. The students intended to demonstrate awareness and support in the wake of recent racial tension at several major American universities.
“It all happened organically,” said Haddiyyah Ali, one of the students who organized the event. “It’s a testament to how powerful students are to recover their spaces and to hold the university accountable.”
The “March for Justice, Empowerment and Solidarity” climaxed on the patio outside of Babbidge Library facing the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. The demonstrators formed a circle and encouraged individuals to take the center and share their stories and perspectives of feeling marginalized, oppressed and ignored based on race, gender and identity.
It continued with the format and engagement of “Speak Out: UConn Standing with Mizzou,” an event held on Fairfield Way surrounding the university’s Oak Leaf seal, which took place the same afternoon. The earlier event responded directly to racial tensions at the University of Missouri, which resulted in its president’s resignation on Nov. 9.
“This whole thing is beautiful,” senior Jose Suriel said. “I’m scared on this campus, and I’m scared for my little sisters. I’m afraid that they’re going out there; afraid that they’ll be labeled.”
Organizer Julian Rose said he was blown away by the evening’s events.
“Everyone took part in it. People who I knew to be shy came up and spoke because they felt empowered,” Rose said.
The students began to organize for the march at 7 p.m. around the seal.
“I came to support all students of color and diversity on campus,” senior Holden Powell said. “Students don’t feel safe due to covert and overt racism on campus.”
Tensions rose at UConn last Saturday, following the terrorist attacks in France, when the nametag on a Muslim student’s door was vandalized with the words “killed Paris.”
“It’s important for college campuses affected by systemic racism to stand with universities like Mizzou so affected by it,” undergraduate student government senator Bennett Cognato said. “The organizers did an excellent job. Just to be here, to be an ally is so important in terms of our small scale community to combat racism and Islamaphobia.”
At 7:15, the event’s organizers stood atop ledges outside of Babbidge to address the crowd.
Organizer Genesis Quiles-Galarza described her feelings of otherness when she immigrated to the country as a small child and her ongoing fears of not being treated as a professional due to her ethnicity.
“I wanted to bleach the color of my skin and hair to be more like the others,” Quiles-Galarza said.
As students began to march they stood closely together looking calm, composed and confident. They chanted:
“Power to who?”
“Power to the people!”
They walked up Fairfield Way carrying signs of white, pink, brown, black and blue. They read, “UCONN STANDS WITH MIZZOU” and “#UConnUprising.”
As the marchers passed Gampel Pavilion and the Co-op a group of four students walking the opposite direction on the opposite side of the road crossed to join.
The group of marchers stretched the length of West Campus residence halls by the time they reached it. Some of them had to walk on the road, but they were calm and orderly.
Senior Alyssa Hughes walked at the front of the marchers and showed endless energy leading chants.
Cars passed. One honked a number of times and the driver smiled widely at the marchers.
When the front of crowd began to thin going down Gilbert Road, students in the back called for them to slow down. And they did.
Another chant took shape: “I am somebody and I deserve full equality.”
Walking Mansfield Way the marchers became a series of silhouettes against the streetlamps. They kept pace. As they rounded upon the Oak Leaf again, they did not stop marching and at least 200 people began to enter Babbidge library.
“Whose UConn?” they chanted. “Our UConn.”
They walked from the entrance into the building, avoided the main study area and then entered into Bookworm’s Café. A worker at the library’s service desk swayed in place, raised her fist and smiled.
“They came through and chanted,” Babbidge security guard Bill Haalck said mildly. “I had no problem as long as they didn’t enter the library (study area) and disturb the students. It’s good they were getting involved.”
Students in the café stopped their studying. Some stared. Some took pictures. One man with striking white hair jumped from his seat and began to march with the students, holding his tablet in hand to take video.
“I heard that they were angry that they were being judged for their skin and that’s wrong,” Storrs local Stephen T. Squires said.
On the patio, they formed a circle and students in the center were given a microphone.
“Don’t settle for their condoning it,” one student said. “Administration, they’ll do a little something, send an email. Don’t stop there until we change the country to the core.”
“Administration isn’t trying to address black issues,” another student said. “They’re trying to appease black people.”
“Higher education wasn’t made for black folk, brown folk, gay folk, trans folk, but guess what?” a young woman said. “We’re here now.”
The students eventually joined hands and formed a circle. They intended, an organizer called out, to chant so loudly that all of UConn could hear it:
“We have a duty to fight for freedom,” they chanted. “We have a duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Minutes later, it started to rain.
“I want every group on campus to feel that they're welcome to be a part of the dialogue about race and racism and discrimination on campus, because when these policies are developed they will affect every single student on campus,” Ali said after the event.
“You should always come to speak out,” she continued. “You should always come to those events. Even if you aren't affected by discrimination you are affected by these policies overall. It's important for every group to have a seat at the table when we talk about changes at the university."
Christopher McDermott is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.