The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

​Are we showing up for black students?

Despite our exhaustion, now is not the time to disengage

For the third time this year, national media have flooded our space. University students are, understandably, exhausted. In part because of this, the arrest of our classmate Martese Johnson and the subsequent response — while it has garnered national attention — has not seen the same response from University students as other controversies. We understand that students are tired. We are tired, too. But it would be a grave mistake to let the exhaustion we feel from the other events of this year prevent us from seeing and changing injustices happening right in front of us.

We wrote Friday that too many peers are taking to anonymous platforms to attack Martese — but others are not even paying attention to students’ concerns stemming from his arrest. At a school of over 21,000 students, only a few hundred came to Wednesday night’s forum — a showing Aryn Frazier, a second-year College student and the political action chair for the Black Student Alliance, described as the biggest showing of student support members of the BSA have seen since they have been talking about violence against black bodies. The attendance at a dialogue Friday between students and members of local law enforcement was also scant — even though there were two overflow rooms provided for the event, half the seats in Newcomb Theater were empty. At a meeting Sunday night hosted by the group Black Dot to discuss tangible changes in response to Martese’s arrest and general student concerns, even with attendees unaffiliated with Black Dot present Wilson 301 was not close to full.

We have written before that it should not take a graphic image to incite a widespread response from the student body on behalf of black peers — but we are seeing that even that graphic image is not inciting as much engagement as we would hope. Perhaps seeing such an image is too much for some students — too upsetting to respond to. But it is such upset that should be channelled into attending events like those described above and hearing the concerns of our peers. If you were held to the ground, covered in your own blood, wouldn’t you want to know your classmates cared?

For black students at the University, a lack of engagement probably doesn’t feel new. In 1987, the University’s Task Force on Afro-American affairs issued a report called “An Audacious Faith,” a comprehensive look into issues facing black University students. In 2007, University students and organizations compiled “An Audacious Faith II.” The issues presented in both reports differ very little. Since 1987, students have been lobbying to change the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and African-American Studies from a program into a department; since 1987, they have been requesting more resources for the Office of African-American Affairs — which is currently housed in what was meant to be a temporary building. Now, in 2015, we still have not seen results.

To lobby for particular changes over a long period of time and see minimal results shapes the context in which Martese’s arrest occurred. For students who have become accustomed to seeing their needs sidelined, a lack of community response to the brutality Martese experienced may not be surprising. And this is something we need to change.

At Friday’s event, Frazier noted, “The stories and the voices of black people have been regulated, denounced and silenced by the very systems to which they have spoken. They have been co-opted, too.” Martese’s arrest is by no means the first instance in or around our University of a black University student being hurt — verbally or physically. In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Joy Omenyi, a fourth-year College student and president of the BSA, said, “When we talk to alumni. . . they remember [events like this] like it was yesterday.” She discussed the need for an archive of all the incidents in which black students have been targeted, “So we can understand the history of this place that we occupy. And understand that when things like this happen, no, it isn’t the first time. And a lot of these don’t happen in a vacuum — in isolation.”

If discrimination against our classmates is not an uncommon occurrence, then there is all the more reason for us to show our support. We all process tragedy in different ways — perhaps students who do not attend events like those listed above are engaging in this issue in other ways. But numbers mean something, and showing Martese and our classmates that we support them, in this case, requires showing up. It is all too easy to see tragedy and turn away from it — to see ourselves in the national spotlight and want to hide. But think about future U.Va. students — the recipients of our legacy. In the same way that we can look to past generations as fighters — against a school that would not co-educate or integrate; against a University president who belonged to a whites-only country club; against a Board of Visitors that refused to be transparent — how do we want the world and posterity to see us?

Our classmates don’t feel like they are being heard, and in many cases, they are not. Let’s show them we’re listening.


Editor’s note: Managing Editor Chloe Heskett abstained from participating in this editorial due to her coverage of Johnson’s arrest.


Latest Podcast

From her love of Taylor Swift to a late-night Yik Yak post, Olivia Beam describes how Swifties at U.Va. was born. In this week's episode, Olivia details the thin line Swifties at U.Va. successfully walk to share their love of Taylor Swift while also fostering an inclusive and welcoming community.