Black Lives Matter has changed UO, but supporters are tired of watching deaths
If you walk past Hamilton Hall, you’ll see photos of deceased black men and women staked into the lawn during a march on the University of Oregon campus on Friday, July 8.
Some of the faces, such as Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, were immediately recognizable. Others were more obscure. All were killed during interactions with police or in police custody, and all were black.
These are the faces of the Black Lives Matter movement. The most recent faces are from last week, when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police within 48 hours of each other. It was their deaths that prompted the march at University of Oregon, where nearly 300 students, faculty and Eugene residents turned out on a summer afternoon.
On Wednesday, the organization Black Lives Matter—which was started on July 13, 2013, the day George Zimmerman was found not guilty in killing Trayvon Martin—will be three years old. It’s been three years of protests and vigils and faces put on signs.
Where previous Black Lives Matter demonstrations on campus have been heated protests, such as last November’s, marchers told the Emerald this one was different. Quantrell Willis, assistant dean of students, says the mood was tired and frustrated.
“Students were telling me that they didn’t want this to feel like a protest,” Willis said. “We’re exhausted at this point. It was all about love and support.”
Marches and vigils are now more symbolic than anything else, according to Christina Jackson, an academic adviser for black and African retention who marched on Friday.
“I think that (marches) help with creating awareness and education,” Jackson said. “But as much as I want to be hopeful that things will get better, I have my doubts about whether marches like this will really overturn the structure of racism as it is today.”
What UO administration is doing
In the last year, UO has started working toward overturning what many like Jackson see as a structure of racism on campus.
From 2005 to 2012, UO’s faculty was the least diverse public university in the Association of American Universities; in 2014, UO had improved but was still fourth-lowest of the 34 public schools in the association. UO President Michael Schill publicly declared in April that the university wants to increase the presence of students and faculty from underrepresented minority groups.
“We recognize that we can and must do more as an institution to meet the needs of Black students,” Schill said in an email to the campus community.
This is no simple task.
“Oregon was founded as a white utopia,” Jackson said, “so there are a lot of reasons why people wouldn’t feel as though this is a place where they can move and live.”
Most of the university’s efforts to promote diversity are still on the horizon. UO has invited six traditionally black fraternities and sororities to campus; set up black-focused classes, forums and academic residential communities; and launched an initiative to hire more faculty of color on campus.
But there are almost 400 black students on campus. Jackson’s work focuses on creating concrete programs and safe spaces on campus for them.
“People need a place where they can let their proverbial hair down, so to speak,” Jackson said. “Where they don’t have to justify themselves or the things that they are asking for.”
Jackson is spearheading a mentorship program called Student of Color Opportunities and Resources in Education, which focuses on pairing upperclassmen—particularly black women in science fields—with incoming students. A similar program in the Office of the Dean of Students has been running since 2004.
What the UO community is doing
At the University of Oregon, African-American students make up 2 percent of the student body—396 in 2015-2016. The march showed that at a university where 60 percent of students are white, 10 percent are Latino, and 6 percent are Asian-American, that support is coming more and more from all ethnic backgrounds, Willis said.
And that support wasn’t just at the march itself. Teri Del Rosso, a doctoral student specializing in public relations at the School of Journalism and Communication, cancelled her regularly scheduled course discussions on the day of the shootings to talk about the deaths of Sterling and Castile. A newly-established activist group, SoJust Collective, held a brief Black Lives Matter demonstration at the closing of the 2016 Olympic Track and Field Trials on Sunday with signs saying, “support Black Lives on and off the field.”
Solidarity also came from different levels of the UO community; ASUO President Quinn Haaga and Internal Vice President Zach Lusby were both at the march on July 8.
Willis noted the march’s ethnic diversity.
“When the movement started, a large part of those coming out … (were) black people, but (last week in Eugene) you saw overwhelmingly diverse support,” Willis said.
Deanielle Ford, an intern at the Student Recreation Center, agreed. Ford said this walk was the most diverse she’d ever seen.
Diversity is a key part of Black Lives Matter’s goals: Nicole Dodier, last year’s co-director of the Black Student Union, said through a megaphone at the rally that everyone has to recognize the importance of the movement.
“All lives cannot matter until the black community matters,” Dodier said.
Will Campbell contributed reporting to this story.
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