A recent Facebook event entitled “Geneseo Walks Out” invited Geneseo students, faculty and administration to join together to walk out of classes on Monday Nov. 16 in support of the events at the University of Missouri.
One student shared his opinion that a walkout sends the wrong message and should not be done during class hours. He was not alone in his convictions, with the virtual support of over 80 Facebook likes and the support of white America that only wants protests that work within systems of oppression.
Walkouts have been a staple of student activism for decades. In 1968, more than 15,000 students walked out of multiple East Los Angeles high schools to draw attention to inequalities affecting Mexican-American students in L.A.’s public schools. This past week alone, more than 20 schools demonstrated solidarity with walkouts, protests and their own list of demands for their administrations to address.
Walkouts are meant to be disruptive and interrupt the normal flow of life. Students of color—as depicted in recent events which are an echo chamber for historic racism that continues to ebb and flow—often do not have the privilege to choose between attending class and their personal safety.
Racism disrupts the safety and education of students of color on a daily basis. Asking students of color to work with academia reconstructs our mission in the language and structure of a system that has been laden with racial strife. Academia is not exempt from institutionalized racism. The walkout acts as a metaphor for the way racism disrupts students’ educations; the same way the walkout interrupted the class.
Students suggested the event would be more successful—success determined by number of participants—if the event was scheduled for All-College Hour. Some students had exams and labs, or professors that may not be accommodating to the walkout. There are students who cannot afford to risk their grades by missing class or workers who cannot afford to lose their jobs. It is completely acceptable that some students were not able to attend the event for various reasons.
Asking students to host this event during All-College Hour, however, shares the same ignorance as asking black people to respect police officers to prevent police brutality, or as telling victims of sexual assault to choose their clothing wisely. This ignorance is an active threat to the lives of people of color.
White students often feel like aggression toward them is not justified because “all lives matter.” Privileged students must realize that their white opinions are not burdened with years of oppressive history, but rather are ubiquitous in the media, in literature and in the visual arts.
Students who believe racism does not exist at Geneseo are not looking, listening and are actively using their privilege to work toward the erasure of oppression. The personal experiences of many students of color exemplify why Geneseo’s supposed “lack of racism” is a myth. Students of color still have to prove their hurt by sharing their experiences through events like the walkout.
This event was the easiest way to show support. To those who were disappointed that they could not attend this walkout, there are active ways to show your support beyond this single event—by calling out racist micro-aggressions, listening to your friends of color’s experiences and acknowledging your own privileges.