At this point in 2020, there aren’t many occurrences that will come as a surprise to anyone. The year started with wildfires and soon added coronavirus and targeted police brutality to its list of tragedies. Our society now finds itself in the middle of two pandemics; COVID-19 and racism. Although oppression and prejudice have been an integral part of the American system, Kent State students are actively working to change the future through advocacy and self-expression.
Students expressing themselves on the infamous Rock facing front campus has been a part of Kent’s traditions for many years. Recently, the Rock has been defaced a total of four times with derogatory slurs directed towards the Black community. After the third occurrence, two Kent students, Tory Wenson and Kammy Gillespie, decided to take matters into their own hands. Rather than distressing over the revolting racism plastered on one of Kent’s artifacts, Wenson and Gillespie channeled their energy into organizing a peaceful protest.
“We as a community are being attacked and the only way we can overcome this problem is by joining together and demanding change from the university,” Gillespie said. “This is why we began creating this protest, to bring people together and make a change on this campus.”
Throughout the planning process, Wenson had one request — to keep it peaceful. While devastated with the racial occurrences happening on campus, Wenson believes it will be an incredible learning opportunity for everyone, giving the chance of growth and prosperity.
“We all know we have to come together as a community,” Wenson said. “And this is the perfect chance to get out and get involved.”
Before the protest, Wenson and Gillespie created a detailed itinerary, informing students how the day will go. On the flyer, they wrote a disclaimer to everyone that stated, “Please remember to be rational while at the protest. We do not want things to get out of hand for the sake of your safety and those around you as this is a chance for us to come together and let our voices be heard.”
Following the disclaimer showed a list of speakers including Cam Cunningham, Tory Wenson, Gabrielle, Delaney and student organizations including Black United Students and SALSA. After the conclusion of the protest, Wenson hopes Kent officials, including President Todd Diacon, will see the severity of the situation and start to take action.
“None of us are free until we’re all free,” Wenson said. “I hope that is something officials will see after the protest.”
Overall, students seemed pleased with the protest and its supportive response despite their concerns over recent events.
“I was really sad to see everything that has happened with the rock,” said sophomore fashion merchandising major Janelle Sessoms. “College is supposed to be a place full of happiness, positivity and excitement for what the future holds. To see that there are people out there with such unnecessary hatred in their hearts towards a specific group of people is really sad to me.”
Sessoms said she believes the protest to be completely necessary and is glad she was able to attend.
“It was amazing to see that it had such a great turnout and as an African American student on campus, it made me feel a lot better and safer to see that we have such support here from the student body,” she said. “Hate has no home here, and I think the protest really showed that.”
Although Kent State has released a statement regarding the turmoil surrounding the Rock on social media, many students feel that the university needs to take more action against the recent hate crimes. Specifically, the lack of response from the university president, Todd Diacon.
Winson isn’t the only student calling for more action from President Diacon. Black United Students has created a list of demands directed at the university to ensure a safe community for students of color. These demands include but are not limited to implementing bias training as well as issuing a clear denunciation of hate speech and discriminatory actions.
Additionally, the Gamma Tau Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity has created their own list of demands. They also urge the university and the Kent State University Police Department to be more proactive in supporting Black students. As a campus organization, A Magazine stands in solidarity with Black United Students and Kappa Alpha Psi. We will continue using our platform to promote social responsibility and support the Black community.
The call to action from Kent State leaders goes out to all students. Every single person on this campus has a role to play when it comes to creating an inclusive and safe environment. In addition to attending organized peaceful protests, there are other ways to be an advocate for change. Students have started a petition that calls for the investigation and punishment of the people who participated in the vandalism of the Rock. They also urge the university to put cameras nearby the Rock in order to prevent future hate crimes. Additionally, several students have worked together in creating an email template for students and community members to voice their concerns to President Diacon.
Social responsibility initiatives like these are crucial to ensuring social change. Kent State is our home, a place where we are able to express ourselves and feel comfortable in our own skin. Let’s work together to ensure that it is a safe community for everyone.