What is student activism? What events are even considered to be activism?
Is activism possible in today’s society? Student activism is standing up for what you believe in, taking action to ensure your rights are given—and doing so respectfully. MSU’s 2011 fall semester has already shown that there are hundreds of issues we as students can take a stand for, even in today’s society. While there’s always room for improvement, the trick is simply finding the passion for it. Activism: it’s how your voice gets heard. Good activism involves patience, a strong will, and a bit of creativity. The kick off to the 2011-2012 school year has opened the gates for several events. While it’s true that we, as a school and part of our nation, have come so far, there’s always room for improvement and groups such as the Black Student Alliance (BSA) and Beyond Coal, have paved the way this past semester. The Black Student Alliance, better known as BSA, has employed all of these traits during their struggle to end discrimination on campus.
Students raised their fist after the campus wide unity march at Hubbard Hall Courtyard
Shortly before the fall semester began, the MSU Black Unity Movement was created by BSA, the Caribbean Student Association, and the African Student Union to unify students of color because “Aren’t We All Black?”
Soon after, students began experiencing unusually vicious racial attacks all over campus. A student in Akers Hall found the words
“No N***** Please” written on the whiteboard outside her door. A black doll was found hanging from the ceiling of a classroom in the chemistry building. A white student was overheard, in Snyder-Phillips cafeteria saying that part of campus was becoming “too black”. He then went on to say that it made him uncomfortable and black students didn’t belong there.
Outraged by these incidents, the administration’s lack of action, and a questionably insensitive letter sent to the student body by President Lou Anna K. Simon, BSA spearheaded a movement to end discrimination on campus for everyone. An emergency town hall meeting was called on October 4th, and students, staff and faculty crammed inside Conrad Hall to express their concerns.
“The life of a colored student on this campus is not that different from an Indian living in Dubai,” said former mentor Ashiq Rahiman about the similar issues he and other black students have faced. Those in attendance made it clear they would not stand for the lack of action and collectively decided something had to be done.
Silent, peaceful protests were arranged, and the movement grew. One of the peaceful demonstrations included having students hand out fliers and stand together in silence all over campus, in places such as the CATA station, East Complex, and the library. There was a silent march starting at Brody and ending at East Complex, symbolized solidarity and the students’ resilience. Some bystanders were so moved, they fell in-step with the marchers and the movement garnered even more support.
The 39th Annual Black Power Rally was held on November 2nd in the Auditorium, where a phenomenal group of poets, singers, dancers and speakers, including guest speaker M.K. Asante Jr., encouraged students to continue fighting the good fight and keep hope alive.
“I’m happy to be here in support of the black students on campus. I think you should all be commended for standing up to power and giving truth to power because you know, at the end of the day, you control this institution,” Asante said during his speech.
The BSA Executive board also gave the audience a recap of their meeting with President Simon, where they presented her with their list of demands. The State News published an editorial about the meeting soon after, blasting BSA for their alleged rude, disrespectful behavior and outrageous demands. When asked to clarify their stance on the issue, the State News declined a comment.
The BSA met with administration again on November 18 in the Brody Neighborhood to further discuss their list of demands. Both the administration and the BSA agreed on changes to the discrimination policy.
Although things are coming together in terms of policy, the administration reminded BSA that they could only do so much. The administration has the power to punish for acts of discrimination, but they can only do so if the incident is reported to the proper authorities. Negotiations and policy changes are continuing.
So what do you do now? Should students sit back, twiddle their thumbs and wait for negotiations to end? Absolutely not. Students must continue the fight, not just in the street, but also in the classroom.
Don’t be extracurricular junkies and academic flunkies,” warned MSU alum and Professor Dr. Temple during the Emergency Town Hall meeting. So turn acts of discrimination into teaching moments. Be calm and be patient; but don’t just sit in the background and wait for others to do the dirty work. You’re the only one who can make your voice heard. From protests to programs, student activism groups on campus made sure the university has heard their demands; and called other students to join ranks.
Students raised their fist after the campus wide unity march at Hubbard Hall Courtyard/Photo by MSU Beyond Coal
MSU Beyond Coal is one campaign that has truly been at the forefront of this push for social change on campus. The Sierra
Student Coalition and the Sierra Club sponsor the campaign, which involves students, faculty, administrators, alumni, and local residents. The org has been working to end the university’s dependency on coal and hopes they develop more energy efficient programs to buildings on campus. The T.B. Simon power plant is one of the largest in the country and provides power to the entire university. It is also the largest on-campus coal-burning plant, burning 250 thousand tons of coal a year, according to watchsource.org.
Beyond Coal began organizing in 2010 and has held a number of programs to preach the importance of environmental sustainability. In 2011, they held a Clean Energy Forum where speakers included a coal analyst from Greenpeace and even president of Greennation Pastor D. Alexander Bullock. They’ve also hosted a movie screening featuring “On Coal River” in collaboration with Greenpeace and the Multi-State Salinity Coalition, or MSSC.
In addition to these efforts, last fall Beyond Coal organized a flash mob and protest in front of the Hannah Administration Building, attended the Midwest Powershift conference in Cleveland, and even set up at the Rock and the International Center to make phone calls to President Lou Anna K. Simon demanding that the university stop using coal.
And the progress they’ve made so far? Early spring of last year, the university formed a “steering committee” that includes faculty, staff and students (including students apart of Beyond Coal and Greenpeace), so they could work together to address these concerns and find solutions. Since then, Beyond Coal members have been working on a master plan of their own, one that outlines the ways in which the university can potentially transition to using 100% renewable energy. The MSU Board of Trustees
will vote on a plan in April.
In the meantime, Beyond Coal plans to continue holding programs and events. There are also opportunities to become a part of the movement by interning and volunteering with the organization. Beyond Coal holds informational sessions in the MSU Union every weekday at 2 p.m. and at 5 p.m.
For more information, follow them on Twitter @MSUBeyondCoal or visit their website at msubeyondcoal.wordpress.com.
For more information about the MSU Black Unity Movement, search #MSUBlackUnityMovement on Facebook.