Face-Off: Student protests during class hours

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.

-Britina Cheng, columnist

Geneseo has a very socially active student body—and that’s definitely something to be proud of. The “Geneseo Walks Out” protest in support of Concerned Students 1950, however, had serious logistical flaws that were detrimental to its potential impact.

One criticism that many students had was that the march was planned during classes. Many interested students were unable to attend because their classes had required attendance or they were taking a quiz or test. This defense was met—rather harshly—with insinuations that, if these students really cared about this important issue, then they would leave their classes.

This is simply impractical. Full-time students invest over $8,000 each year at Geneseo for tuition alone. The issue isn’t the legitimacy of the cause—it’s the true value of a student’s dollar. Students like myself who are trying to get into law school, medical school or any other type of graduate program can’t risk valuable grade point average points because of a march in the middle of a class. Perhaps students who don’t have to worry about where their tuition money comes from don't have this problem, but not all Geneseo students have this privilege.

Furthermore, the college has a time set aside for these types of demonstrations to take place in front of the entire campus: All-College Hour. All-College Hour is every Wednesday from 2:30–3:45 p.m. During this time, there are no classes and there are many events that take place for students and faculty to take advantage of. Geneseo provides this opportunity for us to demonstrate for causes that we deem important. The school is practically encouraging demonstrations, marches and protests.

Another fundamental problem with this march is that it draws attention away from potential solutions to a problem. I’m in no way, shape or form saying that racism isn’t a problem across this country and even in Geneseo itself; I’ve had interactions with racist townies and other students that make me scratch my head. But the problem at hand—at the University of Missouri, Ithaca College and elsewhere—is institutional racism.

Institutional racism is explicit or passive discrimination against a certain group—in this case, black Americans. If these students are really out to combat institutional racism, then they should bombard professors, department heads, administrators and others whom they deem guilty of allowing institutional racism to continue with emails and phone calls. An incomplete march is unproductive and misses the point of demonstration.

Finally—and most importantly—having the protest on a Monday during classes immediately following terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut and natural disasters in Japan and Mexico sends a terrible message. There is a huge public relations problem with this group. They are out to get people’s attention with the mindset of “all publicity is good publicity.” This is simply not true. If you can’t get people on your side, all of the publicity in the world cannot save you. Because of this, protests like this one are doomed from the start.

To reiterate: the problem isn’t with the cause of this demonstration—it’s with its execution. It seems that the organizers did not think things all the way through and it was detrimental to their purpose.

-Taylor Frank, editor-in-chief