Rally captivates, draws hundreds

Ephs broke the silence in the libraries and Paresky Center last Wednesday with a rally and march to raise awareness about discrimination issues at the College, spearheaded by the emerging group Stand With Us. An estimated 600 students, faculty and staff attended the rally in Paresky’s Baxter Hall, participated in a march across campus, then returned to Paresky to affirm the Pact Against Indifference and Hate.

The awareness rally was opened at 10:30 p.m. by Kim Dacres ’08 and Morgan Goodwin ’08, Stand With Us leaders and former CC co-presidents. Dacres and Goodwin spoke about the campus-wide discussion and mobilization sparked by racist graffiti written on Williams Hall door signs, then issued a call for action. “We are here to build a better Williams,” Goodwin said. “We are here tonight to say that we can and will change our campus culture.”

Following this introduction, two faculty members offered their perspectives on community at the College. Stephane Robolin, professor of Africana studies, affirmed the “impressive constellation” of students in Stand With Us and emphasized a social commitment to confront discrimination and the structures that enable it. Dorothy Wang, professor of American studies, addressed the need to channel passion into decisive institutional change. “We can have a Williams where the N-word cannot be used casually,” Wang said, “and where non-whites no longer have to feel like they are guests who should be grateful they’ve been let in the back door.”

For the next 20 minutes, the capacity crowd was held rapt as five members of the College community shared testimonials of being victims of prejudice. Patty Cho ’10 began the intensely personal session with a slam poem about her resistance to racism despite the stereotyping she grew up with.

After Cho’s poem, Alex Cruz ’11 related how he was driven to the brink of overdosing last semester after repeatedly being a victim of subtle prejudice. “I want you to know that simple things, like crossing the road when you see someone who looks different, have a big impact,” Cruz said. “I’m going to go on wearing my baggy jacket and tipping my hat sideways, because that’s who I am and I’m here to stay.”

Next, Dacres spoke on the importance of enriching mutual understanding on campus. Kareem Khubchandani, assistant director and queer life coordinator of the Multicultural Center, then shared his encounter with homophobia in college. David Rivera ’08 concluded the testimonials with his account of a racist incident in his freshman year. “I’m angry, and a lot of that anger is against me for not doing anything earlier,” Rivera said. “There’s a different type of energy [this year],” Rivera said. “We can actually make a strong change.”

The Baxter Hall session ended with performances in response to the recent bias-motivated incidents, and then transitioned to the next component of the evening – a march through Sawyer Library, the Frosh Quad and Schow Science Library. Students streamed across Paresky lawn, holding signs with messages of respect and chanting slogans such as, “Stand with us,” and “Williams. United. We’ll never be divided.” They then swept through Sawyer, continuing the chant and inviting other students to join their ranks.

On the way through the Frosh Quad to Park Street, the marchers stopped briefly to rally outside Williams E, the site of the racist graffiti that catalyzed the Stand With Us movement. The march then proceeded to Schow, where students again moved through the library, calling on their peers to participate. After congregating to chant briefly at the Schow foyer, the Stand With Us marchers moved back towards Paresky. By the time the last participants had exited the doors of Schow Atrium, those at the front of the line were steps away from reentering Paresky.

Once the marchers had reconvened in Baxter Hall, the rally culminated in a communal reading of the Pact Against Indifference and Hate. The event ended with Ariel Heyman ’08 singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” while the lights in Baxter were dimmed and people swayed to the music, arm-in-arm.

“The rally was more of a success than we could have imagined,” said Zoe Fonseca ’08, coordinator and emcee of the event. “The hundreds of people who stood, cheered, cried, sang and marched at the rally were reacting to a deep pain shared by members of our community and the need to acknowledge that pain and address its sources.”

Goodwin testified to the galvanizing impact of the rally. “In the days since the rally what has been most moving for me is all the incredible e-mails and conversations I’ve had with students and also administrators and professors saying that they’ve never been so inspired in all their years at Williams.” he said.

Mike Reed, vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity, also applauded the rally. “What I like about this group is that [the rally and the previous meetings] were well-thought out,” Reed said. “There was a thorough discussion of the issues, there was a vote to prioritize them, there were subcommittees that were then established. That’s activism at its best.”

In the midst of the positive sentiment about the rally, however, some felt that the march took on a less complimentary character. Katie Stack ’08 was studying in Schow on Wednesday night, and, among other things, had a student aggressively call, “Stand with us,” in her face. “The way it was carried out, I wasn’t given an option,” Stack said. “If I didn’t stand up, to them it said I didn’t care about decreasing discrimination, which I thought it was unfair and polarizing.” She added that it was the most uncomfortable peer pressure she had felt at the College.

Three first-years from Sage Hall were doing homework in their common room when the Stand With Us march passed through the Frosh Quad. They joined the march briefly, then attempted to return to their entry but were stopped by other marchers. “A few people were yelling at us – not in a malicious way, but making us feel guilty for going back in, like we were disrespecting them,” said Jack Killea ’11. They eventually took a detour when the march passed the Bronfman Science Center and looped around to Sage Hall. “I wasn’t upset; it was understandable,” Killea said. “But I could see that some of my classmates were uncomfortable. It was a powerful, passionate situation and some people in the heat of the moment might have gotten carried away.”

The organizers expressed regret over these episodes. “None of us want anyone to feel threatened because that’s exactly what we’re trying to fight,” Fonseca said. “We accept responsibility for our actions, and hope everyone can share their grievances so together we can learn from our mistakes.” She noted that large-scale actions necessarily involve the potential for failure alongside success.

Stack pointed to peaceful forms of activism. “If they had walked into Schow singing a song or holding hands, something akin to Take Back the Night, those are peaceful ways of protesting that are very powerful,” she said, also advocating one-on-one interaction. “I’m not an apathetic or indifferent student – I feel strongly about it and will talk with people for hours about it,” Stack said. “I think things as simple as greeting the person you walk past or having informal conversation are most effective, because your individual voice can be heard.”

According to Shayla Williams ’09, the Stand With Us point person for Wednesday’s events, such smaller conversations within classrooms were one reason that people attended the rally. “I think that for classes that did have something, it helped to raise awareness. As a result, some people came to the rally and were willing to listen even if they didn’t agree with it completely.”