Sam Shelton, City Paper, November 14, 2016
Hundreds of Towson University students walked out of their respective classrooms earlier today in favor of protesting against the impending Donald Trump presidency and white supremacy at-large. Organized by Towson’s faculty-led Social Justice Collective in conjunction with student groups, the walk-out urged students to leave their classes at noon in protest of post-election bigotry and racism, concepts that aren’t all that unfamiliar on TU’s campus.
Assatta’s Shakur’s freedom chant has become a well-known mantra within black activist circles at Towson’s, and at the protest today, hundreds chimed in as student activist John Gillespie led the chant: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
At Freedom Square, a space on-campus activists have utilized frequently over the past year, student and faculty speakers alike shared stories of discrimination, institutional racism, and systemic mistreatment, in addition to urging in favor of action.
“Today, I’m asking the entire Towson community to feel the pain of some of our most vulnerable students,” anthropology professor Nicole Fabricant said. “To walk around in their shoes and then think differently about teaching, about education and what about this moment means for faculty, for staff and for our students.”
Student Government Association President Taylor James told the crowd, “I just want to say to every person who has hate in their heart… we’re not going to welcome you here.”
Meanwhile, a Parkville woman and Towson commuter student was arrested and charged with second-degree assault and theft earlier this month after allegedly confronting a Trump supporter and taking his phone on Nov. 1 near the Glen Garage on campus.
The University just can’t seem to shirk the ever-present reach of The Donald.
Last November, a group of concerned black students staged a sit-in of the University President’s Office and presented then-Interim President Timothy Chandler with a list of demands pertaining to implementing diversity measures and rectifying inequities. The university has since created a website that catalogues the progress made on each demand, but that doesn’t mean that Towson is suddenly a perfect place for black students.
Some would say the campus is far from it.
Just last month, Cook Library’s Special Collections Twitter account tweeted out an image from 1953’s Homecoming that featured students hanging the Loyola mascot in a manner many students took issue with. The problem was only exacerbated by fumbled apologies from library faculty, though the incident was smoothed over through further student-faculty discussion.
On Thursday night, the Towson Freedom School, an educational space for discussion of black issues and something of a home base for local black activists to voice their ideas, presented a “public debate on prison abolition.” Founded by Gillespie, the Freedom School was created this semester in order to provide a place for black studies and ideas, which Towson lacks. The group meets once a week, on Thursday evenings, to discuss various intersectional issues and suggested readings, usually from black activists and intellectuals. Last week’s meeting was meant to be followed by a healing circle in response to Election Day’s shakeup, but the Freedom School lesson ran long.
Freedom School’s meetings are inclusive yet the group itself stands out against the university’s overwhelmingly white population. Around 60 percent of Towson students are white, while only about 16 percent are black. Numbers pertaining to faculty diversity and the largely white tenured population reflect just as poorly on the university, which claims it is actively trying to rectify representation discrepancies.
“An overwhelming amount of white people chose to vote for Donald Trump, and what that says is you as a white person hate me so much, hate poor people so much, hate Muslim people so much, hate reproductive rights so much, hate mental health rights so much, that you decided to vote against your own well-being to see that I do not have rights,” student activist Bilphena Yahwon said at the protest. “That’s exactly what occurred. Let’s call it what it is.”
Students have planned to protest again tomorrow night with a peaceful march through campus.