By Abbie Malabuyoc & Casey Chaffin
Students at Soka University of America will be protesting the annual tradition of Soka Fest tonight in solidarity with the Black Student Union. Many still question BSU’s motives in dissenting from the yearly celebration.
Racism on campus goes back far beyond a Facebook exchange over the use of the n-word by a non-black student. And the nature of the racism goes far beyond the use of the racial slur.
On November 2, in response to a high-profile incident of the n-word being used by a non-black student the day before, the Black Student Union organized a meeting to discuss the issue of racism on SUA’s campus. Older posts in the Facebook group for students reveal that this was not an isolated incident. Less than two weeks prior, Kristen Storms, a third-year student and co-founder of the BSU, shared the video “Ta-Nehisi Coates on words that don’t belong to everyone” in response to another reported incident.
In the video, Coates addresses why non-black people should not use the n-word. Storms wrote, “Because this campus needs another reminder. This word is never okay to be used in any context by those outside the Black community.”
Will Carroll, a fourth-year student and member of the BSU, invited students to a November 2 BSU meeting to discuss the recent incidents via Facebook: “The meeting is open to all. Since there is such a big demand for black students at Soka to educate, we’re doing it now.” While many attended, a number of students reported they were discouraged from going to the meeting by an individual concerned that the meeting would be accusatory and “just angry people yelling” rather than productive.
One student recalled running into one of the Residence Hall Coordinators while they were sitting outside of the meeting space, reporting that the RHC had come to “check up on the meeting” due to “concerns of safety.” It was later reported and confirmed that a Resident Assistant called campus security after hearing about the meeting. Members of BSU have stated that all of these responses were particularly harmful to black students given the existing racial stereotypes for black people as angry and violent as well as the current issue of police brutality against black people in the United States.
Responding to these reactions, Carroll advertised a second meeting held by the BSU the following day, this time specially inviting those that were discouraged to attend the first meeting. That evening, he told the room, “We are not an angry black mob. If you bought into reasons for not attending the meeting, you bought into a racist ideology against black people.” Carroll expressed black students’ frustration with being depicted as violent despite holding the space for dialogue that so many had asked for. “It is a burden on us to hold these spaces to educate. There are resources. You can learn. The African diaspora of the world is not responsible for teaching ignorant people.” Black Student Union compiled a resource list for those who seek further education.
The BSU held a third meeting specially for first-year students on Tuesday, November 5. Victoria Walker, Class of 2023, expressed her own frustrations in articulating the issue of racism on campus to her first-year classmates. “I have been here for literally three months,” Walker said. After BSU held their first meeting over the weekend, Walker utilized her position of familiarity as friend and class treasurer to hold a space for first-year students; she understood they might uncomfortable hearing from upperclass students. But Walker reported only 20 first-year students attended that meeting. “I was disappointed. People I thought were my friends didn’t show up.”
Following her gathering with fellow first-years, Walker sat on a panel of BSU members to continue the conversation with the first-year class at a November 5 meeting.
“This fighting racism thing is not something we do for fun,” Walker said.
“The purpose of these meetings is to make it clear black students don’t feel safe on campus,” she said, and that should be a concern of everyone. “When your peers don’t feel safe, you should feel an obligation to make everyone else feel safe,” she said.
“There should be unity on this issue,” Carroll added, in that all students should condemn racism among their peers and listen when black students say they feel fear on campus.
The events on campus have led to other student of color organizations hosting discussions about discrimination they face as well as colorism and racism within their communities. The Muslim Student Association hosted a discussion and documentary screening about Islamophobia on Wednesday, November 6. Soka Education Student Research Project collaborated with the Asian Pacific Diaspora club to present on global citizenship and Asian allyship with black students on Thursday. That same evening Latines Unides hosted a conversation about colorism and racism in the Latinx community.
Student unrest will culminate on Saturday night with a student protest of Soka Festival, an annual celebration of unity that the Black Student Union and Students of Color Coalition have argued doesn’t represent the true nature of Soka.