Beyond Solidarity: Linking Campus Movements, Not Moments

Megs Gisela Bautista, College fifth-year and Student Senate Liaison

To the Editors:

To the Black students here at Oberlin College, as well as at the University of Missouri, Yale University, Claremont McKenna College, Howard University, Ithaca College and college campuses around the country, let me be clear: This is not simply an expression of solidarity. After hearing one hair-raising story after another accounting the casual, interpersonal, implicit, deliberate and institutional erasure and dehumanization of Black culture, Black power and Black lives, we are here to say: We are with you; you have nothing to lose but your chains.

I cannot begin to speak for the experiences of Black students confronting anti-Blackness on college campuses; that would facilitate the erasure of the nuances of the Black experience in these spaces, which is clearly in dire need of preservation. I recognize that the history of higher education — and this country — is built upon the backs of Black people, and that legacy stains the halls that we all gather in to learn and grow together. I want to acknowledge that the anti-Black foundations of these spaces stunt your organic growth, inherently deprive you of your humanity and uniquely torment your self-esteem. Your sense of belonging has been deeply impacted by the words, actions and inactions of your peers, teachers and administrators, and this, we agree, warrants revolutionary action.

In the midst of constant dehumanization, I want to offer my support to you as you continue to empower yourselves and create the kind of campus culture you deserve. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that Black students and allies around the country are ready to support you and bolster your narratives of resistance with their own. Black students are saying enough is enough: “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” While some of us are satisfied simply “watching” along with the rest of the world, here at Oberlin, we know from experience that such a definition of solidarity eclipses a dangerous brand of complacency.

While Oberlin College prides itself on its history of progressive racial politics — having been the first college to admit Black students back in 1835 — it has become apparent, especially to Black members of the Oberlin College community, that this commitment is nothing but a façade. In 2013, almost 180 years after that historic moment, Oberlin awarded fewer than 40 degrees to Black students in a class of over 700 students. That spring, Oberlin’s Black community endured a bout of dehumanizing anti-Black hate speech, which was found graffitied in their safe spaces like the Multicultural Resource Center, in their residence halls, in their academic buildings, in Black mentors’ and professors’ mailboxes. On March 4 of the same year, a Black student spotted individuals donning Ku Klux Klan regalia on South Campus, by Afrikan Heritage House and the Edmonia Lewis Center for Women and Transgender People. When Black students demanded institutional redress — in the form of cancellation of classes, mandatory privilege and oppression workshops, etc. — administrators shifted the onus of addressing systematic oppression on campus to students and beleaguered professors.

Black students are charged with the task of changing culture and dismantling institutionalized systems of oppression that are clearly alive and well. Black students no longer have the luxury of conceptualizing or coming into their racial identity organically and untethered to white people touching, excluding, lecturing, whining and questioning them about what it means to be Black in this country, on this campus, in this epoch. Those of us who neglect to support these efforts are complicit in leaving this racist culture intact, and we need to be intentional about condemning this silence.

We agree, you have nothing to lose but your chains, and you have a community that is irrevocably committed to ensuring that you are not alone in this laborious and unjust process. First and foremost, ensuring your mental and physical well-being will be our priority; then, locking arms with you in protest will follow. And please do not be placated by police officers saying they’ve handled the situation, when we know how they handled Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, and other Black people miles away from our campuses. And please do not pay any mind to those questioning the credibility of threats to your safety, because the chants of “Black Lives Matter” from California to Cleveland, with Columbia in between, will continue to drown them out until this movement reaches a deafening roar. To the Black students of Oberlin College and to their allies — as well as to Black students and their allies across the country — we must never forget the violent and oppressive history behind your position in these universities, and in this world, and we must share your story with generations to come. We must not view these incidents in isolation from one another; we must recognize the interconnectedness of these struggles. Like so many others have said, let us ensure that this is a revolutionary movement, and not a moment of bourgeois social enlightenment.

Sincerely and in solidarity,

Megs Gisela Bautista
College fifth-year, Oberlin College Student Senate Liaison

and the undersigned Student Senators:

Peace Iyiewuare
College junior

Anjali Kolachalam
College sophomore

Cyrus Eosphoros
College junior 

Elijah Aladin
College first-year

Jeremy Poe
double-degree junior

Kirsten Mojziszek
College first-year

Henry DuBeau
College sophomore

Cory Ventresca
College junior

Dan Lev
College junior

Joshua Koller
College sophomore

Jesse Docter
College sophomore