Despite the season’s first snowstorm, more than 30 Fort Lewis College students rallied Monday to show solidarity with university students across the nation looking to end racism on college campuses.
Monday’s rally was part of a “National Day of Action” in support of ending racist policies at the University of Missouri – where protests erupted after several racist incidents occurred that some students say embody a pervasive culture of bigotry, leading to the resignation of the school’s president and chancellor – as well as other institutions.
In Durango, the event was organized by the FLC Black Student Union, a relatively new group that boasts almost 70 members on its Facebook page.
The group’s adviser, Anthony Nocella, a sociology professor, said the FLC Black Student Union aims to achieve three goals on campus: hire more black faculty and staff, create a black Student Union space on campus and introduce an African-American studies department.
“We decided to do today’s rally as hundreds of schools (also march) in solidarity,” Nocella said. “We want to address these issues in a transformative manner.”
According to FLC’s Office of Diversity Department, only 1 percent of the schools estimated 3,692 students are black, and Nocella said those students are usually drawn to the school for its athletic programs.
“A lot of them are just not happy here,” he said. “Durango is not the most inclusive town. There’s no school clubs, no gathering spaces and not a lot of black staff. It would change the whole dynamic of this campus to be a little more inclusive.”
MeKayla Smith, a senior in the adventure education program, said the transition from her hometown in New Haven, Connecticut, to Durango was hard at first, initially feeling isolated among the largely white student body.
“I just decided I have to be the one to go out and make things happen regardless of any personal feelings,” she said.
Smith said just like any school, there are some aspects of racism at FLC, mostly in quiet ways instead of “crazy racial slurs.” The vast majority of racist comments surface, Smith said, when overheard in a conversation or on Yik Yak, a social media site that allows users to post comments anonymously.
“That’s where you hear and see there are unspoken (racial sentiments),” Smith said. “When people see they can get away with posting something anonymously, that’s when you see racist comments.”
Dabney Meachum, a FLC senior, agreed that racism on campus is more of a subtle issue. However, she said Monday’s rally was an attempt to show the student body in Durango bigotry will not be tolerated.
“Young people are getting involved, and the conversation has been started again,” Meachum said. “This is like the new civil rights era.”
Students on Monday bore the chilling temperatures outside Reed Library as the sun set on a snowy Durango, chanting a rally-cry that repeated “It is our duty to fight for freedom.” All the while, they live tweeted the event, with the hashtag #ConcernedStudent1950, which refers to the year the University of Missouri admitted its first black student. The hashtag has now been adopted by hundreds of activist groups, and binds together similar marches throughout the country on social media.
“You can address the issue in everyday life by not being silent when you hear something,” Meachum told the crowd. She asked students to attend FLC Black Student Union meetings every Monday and join its growing presence on social media.
Fort Lewis College administrators have not yet received a list of the FLC Black Student Union’s goals, and they are in touch with the rally’s organizers to get more information, said Mitch Davis, FLC spokesman.
An earlier version of this story misstated the gender of Fort Lewis College senior Dabney Meachum. The error was made in editing.