In an effort to show solidarity with University of Missouri activist group Concerned Student 1950 as well as students of color and protestors, several student organizations participated in a walkout protest and campus march on Monday Nov. 16 at 12 p.m. Anonymous testimonials from students regarding their experiences with racism on campus were also shared at the event. According to Democracy Matters secretary and Geneseo Environmental Organization webmaster senior Ty Matsushita, the protest had 250 students and faculty members participating, including President Denise Battles and her husband Michael Mills. Battles had sent out a campus-wide email the morning of the walkout in support of the event.
“I applaud our students’ dedication to social justice and share their desire for our College to be an exemplar of these values,” she wrote.
Matsushita and Students Against Social Injustice president junior Sasha Miller emphasized the value of having administration support for and at the protest.
“I’m not even exaggerating, that was one of the happiest moments of my life here at Geneseo … to know that faculty support you … that gives me so much hope,” Miller said. “Having that walkout and having professors say, ‘I support you;’ to get that response and be like, ‘Wow, this has been here all along, I just never knew it,’ you feel more comfortable in your skin. You feel more comfortable in this environment. You no longer feel pushed to the edges.”
“Seeing that much support was really, really amazing, especially since we didn’t have a lot of time to get the event together,” Matsushita added. “Seeing that support made students feel like they could come up and say what they had to say.”
Students shared anonymous submissions about experiences with racism at Geneseo at the event. Battles found the submissions to be beneficial for all to hear.
“As difficult as it is to hear the examples of how people have faced … inappropriate circumstances and comments, it’s really important that we understand what people’s experiences are so that we can work from there to build a better community,” Battles said. “That’s how I thought the sharing was very important and powerful and I’m hoping we can use the information to continuously improve our campus community.”
“Prejudice is probably invisible to a lot of students who don’t experience things otherwise,” senior Jenny Soudachanh added. “That’s how this event can help change how people see things.”
According to Miller, the event was planned in response to SASI’s announcement on the open Geneseo Social Justice Organizations Facebook page that they would hold a formal panel discussion about Mizzou at the start of December. Student desire for more immediate action resulted in a myriad of student organizations—DM, GEO, SASI, Latino Student Association, Black Student Union, Peace Action Geneseo, Women’s Action Coalition, Pride Alliance, It’s On Us and Anthropology Club—gathering on Friday Nov. 13 to collaborate and plan what would evolve into the official “Geneseo Walks Out” event.
GEO president and DM vice president senior Julia Mizutani explained that the decision to hold a walkout was made with much consideration.
“It came up where people were like, ‘We don’t know if this is a good idea’ … people did bring up the fact that it wouldn’t get us as many people because of classes, because students would have to make that choice and that’s hard.”
According to Matsushita, the ultimate reason to hold the walkout was to exemplify the goal of solidarity. “I think a lot of us thought that the walkout had a lot of symbolic significance,” he said. “Students of color find their education disrupted in a number of ways and we thought it was important to have that disruption of the education system through the form of a walkout to sort of mirror that.”
Some students, however, disagreed with the way the protest was conducted.
“The College provides a time frame for events like this—the All-College Hour—so that it’s all-encompassing, all-inclusive, everyone can participate. I don’t support walking out of a classroom because I feel that it’s disrespectful to the professor; I think that it’s counter-intuitive to the college experience,” senior Casey Larkin said. “It’s not that I don’t support the acts of the organizers. I think that’s important to talk about racism on campus—I think that it’s important to talk about ways that we can detract from racist culture that, I will admit, does exist on campus.”
Junior Josh DeJoy expressed similar sentiments.
“I don’t oppose the idea that there is racism and that needs to be combatted somehow, but the question is, ‘How?’ And I don’t know if the conception of the protests—as they are now—are the most effective way to do that,” he said. “I don’t think expressing people’s experiences with racism is sufficient. I think it’s important, but there’s no discussion of where racism comes from and how to actually stop it. There’s no discussion of sourcing it in social conditions, for example. I’ve seen little effort to link it with other struggles that I think are related in terms of ultimately being sourced in the social conditions of capitalism.”
Mills noted that the walkout is “a hard issue,” but expressed his support for the event nonetheless. “Certainly I’m very supportive of the students taking a stand … How they go about it is their decision,” he said.
LSA member freshman John Cordova noted that criticisms of the event varied on all levels of intensity, citing the specific example of the protestors meeting angry cries of “shut the fuck up” while chanting around Milne Library.
Matsushita added that the administrative members seeing the backlash toward student protests firsthand further allowed them to see things from a student perspective.
“Having people shouting at us and shouting at President Battles too—she was marching with us—I think that was important for them to see what student activists at Geneseo go through when we try and make a positive change: the pushback we get,” he said.
Despite criticisms, Miller expressed the belief that one of the major goals in getting the conversation around campus racism started was accomplished.
“I spoke to a lot of faculty and staff and they said that they didn’t even know that this was happening because there’s not a lot of discussion about these things on campus. I think that’s one of the problems,” she said. “One of the great things about the walkout was that you got to hear from people that these things are happening in Geneseo.”
Cordova echoed Miller’s sentiment.
“Any sort of discussion—whether good or bad, insulting or complimentary—is still a discussion at the end of the day,” Cordova said. “That’s bringing change.”
“Just because the walkout is over doesn’t mean that what we’re trying to do is over,” Miller added.
Asst. News editors Malachy Dempsey and Annie Renaud contributed reporting to this article.