Students, faculty and administrators “walked-out” last Wednesday to celebrate past fights for diversity and equality on campus.
About 40 Wittenberg community members marched through campus as a part of Concerned Black Student’s (CBS) forty-seventh annual “walkout.” The demonstration occurs annually to pay tribute to the 38 of the university’s then-45 black students who walked off campus in protest in 1969 after negotiations surrounding 14 demands for racial diversity between the administration and the then-recently founded CBS failed.
Senior Mia Simpson, president of CBS, said it’s important to honor the students’ bravery and courage, considering the lack of support from the university at the time.
“It takes a lot to go into ‘the unknown,’” Simpson explained, referring to the two days that the students spent off-campus in protest. “They could have been kicked out of school.”
According to William Kinnison’s “Modern Wittenberg,” the second of his two-part history of Wittenberg, the list of demands presented by CBS in 1969 included the recruitment of more black students, the hiring of black faculty and staff, and the offering of courses in black studies. The list of demands was prompted by the unwarranted arrest of three black guests who were visiting from another school, and the protest ended after CBS and the administration reached an agreement.
Before the students began the walk at the seal last Tuesday, John Young, associate dean for multicultural student programs, said it’s important to recognize and remember where gains in diversity have come from.
“It’s essential that we commemorate the sacrifices they made and their commitment to raising consciousness on issues of diversity,” Young said, adding that student activists played large roles in the 1960s Civil Rights movements. “It’s a reminder of why we have what we have today.”
In addition to commemorating past acts, Young also said the walkout serves as a reminder for the work that still needs to be done.
“Universities still face challenges, and it’s important to keep universities aware of issues of diversity,” Young added, noting in particular the recruitment of minority students and faculty.
The walk began at 10:30 a.m., lasted around 45 minutes, and went through all the floors of Recitation Hall, Koch Hall, Kuss Science Center, Hollenbeck Hall, Blair Hall and Synod Hall, ending in front of the Student Center, where participants were encouraged to reflect.
Mark DeVilbiss, associate dean of residence life, said he liked that the demonstration reached a lot of Wittenberg community members.
“I appreciate that we disrupted people and made them stop to think about why this happened,” DeVilbiss told participants. “[The original walkout was] meant to be a statement, and it’s important to remember that.”
For one Wittenberg community member, the commemoration also served as a reminder of how acts of protest can inspire individuals and society at-large. Peggy Hanna, who is an administrative assistant in the sociology and geography departments, told participants that the protest played a role in triggering what has become a nearly life-long stint in activism.
“[The walkout] was part of my awakening,” Hanna said, referring to the beginning of her political activism in the Peace Movement during the Vietnam War.
Hanna wrote a memoir on her time fighting to end the Vietnam War, and has since run for state and federal representative seats in Ohio. Hanna is currently the leader of the Clark County Peace Alliance, and is heavily involved in the Clark County Democratic party.
“It might sound cliché, but [those students] showed that you really can make a difference,” Hanna added.