On Saturday morning, August 22nd, a Black Lives Matter display was vandalized in a Gordon apartment building. What was a “BLM” sign, was vandalized to instead read “ALM” (all lives matter); senior Joshua Crutchfield shared a photo of the racist defamation in the basement of Tavilla.
While “Black Lives Matter” and the nationwide protests that have accompanied the movement have been made into a hotbed of political debate, many students, including David Bello Jr., the apartment coordinator of the floor where the incident occurred, would say it is not political, but simply a statement of human value. “Personally, I’m not surprised, but it still bothers me that many people still think that advocating for Black lives is a political issue when in fact, it’s not. It’s a human rights issue. It’s not BLM only, it’s BLM too.”
Evangelina Opoku-Nyarko, a senior, shared on Instagram, “To whoever destroyed the hall decorations, I am the B you took down. The one you replaced with an A. And in doing that, you told me I don’t deserve to be fought for, to be represented or celebrated. You told me I don’t really matter. So you see, what you really said was that not all lives matter.”
Many students shared outrage on social media as word spread about the incident. 2020 graduate, BJ Osuagwu, shared on Instagram: “Imagine a place that already lacks minority representation in staff, administration, and students, even further oppressing the voices of the few… I for one refuse to accept this.”
Senior Brittany Cardoza expressed her concern for Gordon College. “We have to do better than this. It should not be hard to do infinitely better than this. This is not loving your neighbor, and behaviors like this are not part of your freedom of opinion.”
Gordon College responded relatively quickly with a post on Instagram: “The College is taking this very seriously and has launched an investigation. We are committed to taking the appropriate disciplinary action. Gordon has a zero-tolerance policy for this sort of behavior. We are especially sorry for the pain that we know this type of incident causes our Black students.”
Many insist Gordon’s statement isn’t enough. After a flurry of comments in both support of Black Lives Matter and racially-charged comments against it, Gordon College turned off the comments section on its Instagram post entirely.
Senior Justine Boonstra worries that a deleted comment section limits the landscape of true discussion: “Deleting the comment section is sketchy. It limits the opportunity to educate blatantly ignorant people on the Black Lives Matter movement. Silence is violence.”
Junior Liesl Hoeldtke agreed with other students that tangible change is necessary. “There is no place for racism in our student body. An instagram post is not enough. Tangible changes must be made.”
In response to the vandalism, a rally was organized and announced through social media to begin at the Bell at 3 PM Saturday. Both AFRO Hamwe and the leaders of the rally worked to ensure that everyone in attendance wore masks, and were socially distanced at least 6 feet apart (even within your household); AFRO Hamwe members surveyed the area, regularly sanitizing attendees’ hands. The rally began with a prayer from AFRO Hamwe president, Orlane Destin. GCSA President, Shineika Fareus, then implored the student body to act. “Silence is betrayal… performative allyship isn’t enough. We need real action. There is a global pandemic of covid, but there is also a global pandemic of racism.”
Event leaders marched from AJ Chapel to the Wilson House; the large crowd stopped outside of President Lindsay’s residence.
Fareus, Destin, and Liz Barnes here shared their stories, their fears, their hopes, and their heart for change in the Gordon community.
Destin shared specific demands of Gordon College: that Black history courses be implemented in the core curriculum, that Black mental health professionals be available for students, that an official document with a timeline for change be presented, that students exhibiting racist behavior be expelled, and that Departmental Diversity Training be implemented in every department. Destin knows that these changes will not necessarily affect her remaining time at Gordon; she is a senior. She focuses on the future: “I want to see change, not for me, but for all those coming after me.”
Following this, Fareus asked the crowd to hold a moment of silence for families who lost loved ones to police brutality, white supremacy, and racism. The moment of silence lasted 8 minutes, 46 seconds: the amount of time that it took Derek Chauvin to murder George Floyd. Fareus asked the group to consider their role in this movement. “What will you do to support Black lives? What actions will you take? What conversations will you have?”
Fareus and Destin gave President Lindsay the opportunity to respond and to outline the College’s plan and timeline for real change. President Lindsay shared his sorrow and general hopes for Gordon in light of this incident and the rally, but did not answer the question Fareus and Destin posed. When President Lindsay had finished speaking, Fareus and Destin asked him to provide the timeline for tangible change so that the gathered students could hold him accountable.
In regards to President Lindsay’s second response, sophomore Andy Ndayishima Bukuru said: “There was no reason for President Lindsay to snap or change the tone of his voice as he did when he was asked again for clarification as to when they would see their request implemented by this administration… All over the country there was a discussion of changes being made in schools, workplaces and elsewhere on how to represent. This administration should have fulfilled the request made by AFRO Hamwe, all Black students, and GCSA prior to the fall semester.”
Eventually, President Lindsay conceded that the student body would be receiving an email within a week’s time that will detail the progress that has been made over the summer and plans for both the short-term and long-term. He acknowledged that this is just the first step in a long journey towards what Barnes called “conciliation.”
Many students hope for tangible change to be outlined in the coming weeks. BJ Osuagwu said, “We’ve seen you make more drastic changes for less. It is now time for Gordon College to get on the right side of history. It is now the time to enact change. It is now the time to practice what you preach.”
When asked about the incident and subsequent rally, Destin shared: “We have seen students be outraged on our Gordon campus before. But we’ve also seen the hype die down. This won’t be one of them. Our fight will continue. So if we must march, we will march. If we need a sit-in, we will. Whatever we need to do, we will do to make sure that Gordon becomes a safe and inviting space for Black Students.”