May 29, 2024

Students Protest College Response To Racial Slur, Occupy Frost Hall

Collin Hall '21, Samara Barrett '21

This article was published on November 3, 2020 on Tartan’s Substack.

Afro Hamwe, Gordon’s Black student group, is staging an overnight sit-in inside Gordon’s primary administrative building, Frost Hall, in response to a racial slur. The sit-in is also protesting systemic racism on campus and complacency on the part of the administration. The overnight protest is a continuation of a speakout earlier on Monday afternoon. At 3pm, more than 200 students gathered to protest persistent injustice on Gordon’s campus; the crowd spilled out the front door and into the biting wind. The rally was held on Frost’s main floor, where important guests of the college are greeted and prospective students first meet admissions staff.

The event was not planned in advance; it was a spontaneous reaction to a t-shirt left on display in a residence hall that read “F*ck N******.” Gordon College Police were alerted to the display shortly after it was found; an investigation is currently underway, but the Gordon Police say they have no further comment at this time. 

Most students who assembled in Frost Monday afternoon left after three hours of speeches, but many stayed with blankets and other supplies to remain in Frost overnight.

Students expressed feelings of exhaustion, sorrow, grief, and shock at the epithet. A common refrain throughout the afternoon was: Why are we here again? It was often repeated that change is necessary; one student asked how they will know that things will be different in a week, in a semester, or in a year. 

Ben Mollenhauer, a sophomore, was first to speak. He said that his sister, in an admissions interview with Wheaton College, was asked if she believes in the statement “Black Lives Matter.” His sister was asked to specify what the statement means to her, and why it is important. Mollenhauer contrasted this experience with what he has seen at Gordon; he said that when visiting students toured campus earlier in the semester, Black Lives Matter signage was removed from Tupper Dining Hall. 

Bil Mooney-McCoy, director of worship at Gordon since 2013, shared his history of pain and disappointment with the way he has oft been treated as a Black man at Gordon. He said: “When I came here in 2013, it was hell. If you don’t believe me, read the Boston Globe story with my name and find out. And to be completely honest, this place did not have my back when it should have. So I get it. I get it. To my Black students, I am so sorry. I had the N-bomb dropped on me so many times, maybe I thought your generation wouldn’t. And I am damn disappointed that that is not the case. I am heartbroken that my granddaughter will have to face the same thing I did.”

He continued: “Many of you have the privilege of ignoring it; that was an option you had. I didn’t have that option. I didn’t have that option when a state trooper stops me, or when I drop into CVS to get toothpaste. But I’m asking you to be aware of who you are and the power that gives you and to use that for the greater good. And yes, the college should have taught you that. You paid for that. They should be held accountable for failing to do that. You didn’t get the education you deserve.” 

He stressed that the problems at Gordon do not hinge on a single aggression or act; Mooney-McCoy calls for wider understanding from his fellow sisters and brothers in Christ to work towards true justice. 

“It’s not just some jerk f-bombing a t-shirt. It’s in so many different ways. And it hurts. It really hurts. I grew up in the city of Boston, one of the most racist cities in the country. I survived busing. That hood? I lived there. I know what it’s like. And it hurts. Sometimes your hurt expresses itself as rage; I’ve had moments when I didn’t want to see a white person, which is very awkward when you’re sitting in chapel. Sometimes it’s fear. I’ve had my ass kicked a couple times because I’m Black. How can our brothers and sisters in Christ not see this?”

Students, faculty members, and Vice President of Student Life, Dan Tymann, rose spontaneously throughout the evening to share a wide variety of emotions. 

The counseling center does not employ a single black counselor and students expressed their frustration at this reality. Students also were angered at what they said was the college’s slow response earlier in the day. 

Jiah Ancrum, a freshman, said that she feels safer at home in Dorchester than she does at Gordon. She recalled being asked to participate in a promotional photoshoot for the college, a photoshoot which she was not informed of prior; she accused the college of inaccurately representing its diversity in promotional material. Ancrum said that she will not be returning to Gordon next year. 

Student Body President Shineika Fareus said that she often feels like she attends “a school that hates me. How are the people in power telling you they’re sorry? No! Do Something!” She continued to say that she seeks to better Gordon because she cares deeply about it, and the people within it. “We are here because we care, and when we care about people, we want to hold them accountable for their actions.”  Fareus called on everyone present at the speakout to pull out their phones and email President Lindsay their concerns. 

Students expressed frustration that Black student leaders on campus remain the driving force behind on-campus conversations on race; many who spoke called on Gordon’s white students to help spearhead change. While the administration, in an August 28, 2020 letter from President Lindsay and Chair of the Board, Herman J. Smith, promised that they are working toward Shalom at Gordon, students expressed that they are more encouraged by their peers than by the administration. 

Senior Kayla Mayo said in an earlier interview: “The conversation about racial reconciliation and Black Lives Matter at Gordon is fueled by the students. I have been so impressed by the strong, resilient student leaders that are making sure their voices are heard on campus. The community of support that has begun to emerge from these conversations is creating the necessary pressure for Gordon College administration to take the steps toward change that is long overdue.”

Sophomore Elizabeth Barnes said, “Administratively, Gordon’s response should have been better. We see more initiatives being pushed from the student leaders than administration. In the lens of a student, more specifically a black student, the lack and hesitancy of initiatives from administration does not make me feel valued or significant. Putting the pressure of having these uncomfortable conversations or events geared towards these topics on student leaders can be heavy, especially as a black woman… We must face the hidden reality on our campus pertaining to race.”

Afro Hamwe, Alana and GCSA are leading the charge in hosting events that raise awareness, begin conversations, and encourage involvement in racial conciliation in the Gordon community and beyond. Following the student-led rally in August and the letter from the administration, there have been numerous student-led initiatives on top of today’s rally. 

Senior Nate Boyer said, “AFRO Hamwe, Alana, and GCSA have done an amazing job at providing spaces where students can understand race as well as why Black Lives must matter to everyone. Incredible black leaders on our campus have created opportunities for racial competency that will hopefully lead to lasting change and will provide a campus atmosphere that values and cares for students of color.”

Tymann sent an email to the student body shortly before the speakout began. He shared feelings of “tremendous sadness, but with outrage and resolve… It is entirely counter to what we stand for as an institution, and as Christians. We must do better as a community! The fact that these incidents continue to be present at Gordon speaks to the reality that our actions have not been sufficient and we need to do more.  Gordon must be a place where all students feel safe and that this is not just their community, but their home!” He pointed again to the “number of steps” being taken by the school to create a safe climate for students of all backgrounds. 

A statement was sent out from many departments on campus expressing grief. Chapel also sent out an email to all students.

Students currently at the Frost overnight sit-in are working on emails to faculty and various initiatives to the end of racial justice. 

Afro Hamwe announced on Instagram that the sit-in will formally continue at 8:45 am on Tuesday, November 3rd.

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