CBS Explains Walkout on MLK Day

Members of Concerned Black Students (CBS)talk about why they walked out of Wittenberg's Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation last Monday, in an event co-hosted by CBS and Student Senate on Monday, Jan 28, 2019. (Trent Sprague/Wittenberg University)

On Monday, Jan. 28, members of the Wittenberg community crammed into Founders Pub to listen as the Concerned Black Students (CBS) executive board discussed their reasoning for walking out of the Martin Luther King Jr. day convocation.

The event was packed, and a few students stood listening out in the Gus Geil Lounge by the door to Founders as the room was filled. In attendance were Dean of Students Casey Gill, Assistant Dean of Students Jon Duraj and Interim Provost Mary Jo Zembar.

At the front of the room sat Seneca Neal, ‘20; Gloria Craig, ’19; Aacha Gregg, ’20; Leul Bulcha, ’20; Asharee Jones, ‘20, and Erica Andrews, ’20.

The event was opened by professor Nancy McHugh from the philosophy department as she described an experience that Isaiah LaJoie, ’19, had to face.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving, LaJoie went to McHugh’s office visibly distraught and told her he had been arraigned for obstructing police business. LaJoie had been out getting food with friends and upon returning home, he was met by Witt police officers who told him they had a warrant for his arrest. LaJoie was arrested in front of 14 or 15 of his friends.

As the police officers were driving him to Springfield Correctional Center, he asked the police officers why he had been arrested. One police officer responded that all he could say was obstruction. After arriving and getting out of the police car, the other police officer asked LaJoie if he knew why he had been arrested. The officer reminded him of an instance ten days previously when he had allegedly denied a direct order four times.

In this instance, LaJoie had a disagreement with a police officer about getting a laptop charger from a house the police were searching. LaJoie was trying to print an assignment for class and his laptop was about to die, so he ran to his friends house where he had left his charger. When he arrived at the house, LaJoie was told by a police officer that he could not enter the room to get his charger.

According to McHugh, LaJoie did admit to being rude and “snarky” with the officer. McHugh did also point out that being rude and snarky is not a crime.

Eventually, LaJoie motioned to go into the room and the officer grabbed him. He told the officer to get their hands off of him and he left the home to go to class.

After class, LaJoie returned to the house and, at this point, Chief Jim Hutchins was there. When LaJoie told Hutchins of his situation, Hutchins had an officer escort LaJoie to the room to get his charger.

This scene is what led to LaJoie’s arrest. McHugh notes that his actions did not warrant an arrest for obstruction of justice. LaJoie ended up not being charged for the instance, but he was forced to pay $750 for a lawyer. After two months and constant pressure from CBS, McHugh, and others, Wittenberg did refund this expenditure On top of this, he also had to go see his doctor because he was dealing with the trauma of being arrested and his family history with the problems of injustice.

Later, an audience member asked if LaJoie had been fiddling with things in the kitchen as had been rumored. McHugh dashed this rumor by explaining that the officer’s body camera did not show LaJoie fiddling with anything.

Craig then brought up the death of Senior Associate Director of Admissions and Coordinator of Multicultural Recruitment, Jimmy Williams, who helped recruit many students of color to the university. Craig stated that the university had a delayed reaction to Williams death and their reaction was not nearly poignant enough.

After describing the situation explained in the “Students Speak out on Discrimmination on Campus” and “Administaration Forms New Diversity Committee,” CBS members then recounted stories of facing racism on campus.

Many members brought up how some students use the n-word on campus. CBS and audience members repeatedly stated how this word should never be used because, at this point in time, students should know better.

Neal recounted an experience she had at Wittfest one year. She and other black friends entered a party and, shortly after they entered, the music was turned down and it was announced that the police were coming and people needed to leave. As Neal and her friends had just entered, they were still by the door and they were the first ones out of the house. After they had left the house, the door was shut and locked and the music resumed. Other CBS members brought up problems with the party scene where hosts tell black students the party is closed, but CBS members stated that it is quite apparent that parties are only closed to black students. From here, the floor was opened up for audience members to share about their experiences and ask questions. A student described another incident with police where she was arrested after she had walked out onto the porch to talk to a friend on the phone about the frustration she had with the events. Another student brought up a problem of professors asking black students what sports they play. He noted that many black students may be involved in a sport, but that does not mean everyone does or that it is the most important aspect of their person. At this point, Andrews noted that she believes many white students are raised to believe that black individuals are criminals, rapists or violent. She stated that this undoubtedly has a negative effect on students as they have these negative images of their black counterparts. After the audience resounded with the snapping of fingers, Bulcha noted that Witt is a liberal arts school and by definition it means that it is open to a variety of different ideas. However, Bulcha noted that this is not the case. Jones then noted the amount of black students standing up to share an experience they had lived through. “Every black student has a story and we walked out for everyone,” Jones said. Marcus O’Neal, ’20, then stood and delivered a strong story of the struggles he is facing in his Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He noted that he is constantly being labeled as lazy, when he said he is at the top of his class and works extremely hard. He then noted the immensity of the issue of racism. “[Racism] is beyond Wittenberg University; it is everywhere we go,” O’Neal said. From here, a few audience members asked questions were asked. A student asked about the notion of pro-black being anti-white. Craig responded that black students just want to be as comfortable as white students. Gregg added that trying to educate others is not anti-white. A white student asked about how she considered herself an ally to black students and Andrews responded with an explanation of a coconspirator. Andrews stated that black students don’t really want allies, they want coconspirators. She explained that coconspirators are individuals who are there with them on the front lines to address problems. Neal noted that one of the primary things that students can do to fight any injustice on campus is to check their friends. If a student hears their friend make a racist joke or say something that is inappropriate they should call them out. Neal argued that by doing so, it would make the friend rethink why they were making comments like that. Throughout the event, the CBS members and professor Sha’Dawn Battle of the English department noted their appreciation for the audience showing up, specifically the white individuals. “I appreciate all the white faces here because it tells us you are willing to be in the conversation,” Battle said. The event ended with a challenge from Craig to white students to imagine being in the minority in a space. She noted that usually if someone is a minority they are very uncomfortable, and she likened this to be what black students face on Wittenberg’s campus. CBS will be holding another event about how white students can help make Witt a more inclusive environment. Be on the look out for flyers and information on when this event will occur.

Neal recounted an experience she had at Wittfest one year. She and other black friends entered a party and, shortly after they entered, the music was turned down and it was announced that the police were coming and people needed to leave. As Neal and her friends had just entered, they were still by the door and they were the first ones out of the house. After they had left the house, the door was shut and locked and the music resumed.

Other CBS members brought up problems with the party scene where hosts tell black students the party is closed, but CBS members stated that it is quite apparent that parties are only closed to black students.

From here, the floor was opened up for audience members to share about their experiences and ask questions.

A student described another incident with police where she was arrested after she had walked out onto the porch to talk to a friend on the phone about the frustration she had with the events.

Another student brought up a problem of professors asking black students what sports they play. He noted that many black students may be involved in a sport, but that does not mean everyone does or that it is the most important aspect of their person.

At this point, Andrews noted that she believes many white students are raised to believe that black individuals are criminals, rapists or violent. She stated that this undoubtedly has a negative effect on students as they have these negative images of their black counterparts.

After the audience resounded with the snapping of fingers, Bulcha noted that Witt is a liberal arts school and by definition it means that it is open to a variety of different ideas. However, Bulcha noted that this is not the case.

Jones then noted the amount of black students standing up to share an experience they had lived through.

“Every black student has a story and we walked out for everyone,” Jones said.

Marcus O’Neal, ’20, then stood and delivered a strong story of the struggles he is facing in his Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He noted that he is constantly being labeled as lazy, when he said he is at the top of his class and works extremely hard. He then noted the immensity of the issue of racism.

“[Racism] is beyond Wittenberg University; it is everywhere we go,” O’Neal said.

From here, a few audience members asked questions were asked. A student asked about the notion of pro-black being anti-white. Craig responded that black students just want to be as comfortable as white students. Gregg added that trying to educate others is not anti-white.

A white student asked about how she considered herself an ally to black students and Andrews responded with an explanation of a coconspirator. Andrews stated that black students don’t really want allies, they want coconspirators. She explained that coconspirators are individuals who are there with them on the front lines to address problems.

Neal noted that one of the primary things that students can do to fight any injustice on campus is to check their friends. If a student hears their friend make a racist joke or say something that is inappropriate they should call them out. Neal argued that by doing so, it would make the friend rethink why they were making comments like that.

Throughout the event, the CBS members and professor Sha’Dawn Battle of the English department noted their appreciation for the audience showing up, specifically the white individuals.

“I appreciate all the white faces here because it tells us you are willing to be in the conversation,” Battle said.

The event ended with a challenge from Craig to white students to imagine being in the minority in a space. She noted that usually if someone is a minority they are very uncomfortable, and she likened this to be what black students face on Wittenberg’s campus.

CBS will be holding another event about how white students can help make Witt a more inclusive environment. Be on the look out for flyers and information on when this event will occur.

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