Hundreds of Towson University students walked out of their respective classrooms earlier today in favor of protesting against the impending Donald Trump presidency and white supremacy at-large. Organized by Towson's faculty-led Social Justice Collective in conjunction with student groups, the walk-out urged students to leave their classes at noon in protest of post-election bigotry and racism, concepts that aren't all that unfamiliar on TU's campus.
Assatta's Shakur's freedom chant has become a well-known mantra within black activist circles at Towson's, and at the protest today, hundreds chimed in as student activist John Gillespie led the chant: "It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains."
At Freedom Square, a space on-campus activists have utilized frequently over the past year, student and faculty speakers alike shared stories of discrimination, institutional racism, and systemic mistreatment, in addition to urging in favor of action.
"Today, I'm asking the entire Towson community to feel the pain of some of our most vulnerable students," anthropology professor Nicole Fabricant said. "To walk around in their shoes and then think differently about teaching, about education and what about this moment means for faculty, for staff and for our students."
Student Government Association President Taylor James told the crowd, "I just want to say to every person who has hate in their heart... we're not going to welcome you here."
Last week, a Facebook post by Towson student July Thompson gained traction online, largely thanks to New York Daily News senior justice writer Shaun King. In the post, Thompson said she was told that "a few white guys" had followed two black students on campus while repeatedly calling them by racial slurs. University police and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion are investigating the incident.
"I have a few months left at Towson University," Thompson wrote, "and I can honestly say that this college does not handle situations with minorities good at all. This won't bring me down, but you can't tell me after Trump got elected some people are starting to get a little brave with their words."
In a campus-wide email sent last week, University President Kim Schatzel said that investigators have made contact with Thompson and are still attempting to identify the students involved in the alleged incident.
"We acknowledge that there are members of our community who are feeling fearful and vulnerable, but we reaffirm our commitment to a safe, thriving, diverse and inclusive campus," she said in the email. "Next week, we will continue to share opportunities to come together on this fundamental value of Towson University. I encourage us to support each other, to love each other, and to work together toward this most important priority."
Meanwhile, a Parkville woman and Towson commuter student was arrested and charged with second-degree assault and theft earlier this month after allegedly confronting a Trump supporter and taking his phone on Nov. 1 near the Glen Garage on campus.
The University just can't seem to shirk the ever-present reach of The Donald.
During the protest, an apparent Trump-supporter and self-proclaimed veteran had to be ushered off the premises by University Police after he shouted expletives back at one of the speakers, and last year, alumnus Matthew Heimbach gained national attention when he was identified as the white man who shoved a black woman protesting at a Louisville Trump rally. Heimbach is infamous around Towson for founding the now-defunct White Student Union and inviting Jared Taylor, a white nationalist, to speak on campus In 2012.
In the years since, university officials have repeatedly expressed that the organization, which routinely conducted patrols around campus, was never sanctioned, acknowledged, or legitimized by the administration or Student Government Association.
Activists and outspoken students frequently cite Heimbach's actions and more recent microaggressions as examples of why Towson does not support its black students and other students of color.
Last November, a group of concerned black students staged a sit-in of the University President's Office and presented then-Interim President Timothy Chandler with a list of demands pertaining to implementing diversity measures and rectifying inequities. The university has since created a website that catalogues the progress made on each demand, but that doesn't mean that Towson is suddenly a perfect place for black students.
Some would say the campus is far from it.
Just last month, Cook Library's Special Collections Twitter account tweeted out an image from 1953's Homecoming that featured students hanging the Loyola mascot in a manner many students took issue with. The problem was only exacerbated by fumbled apologies from library faculty, though the incident was smoothed over through further student-faculty discussion.
As news of Trump's election set in and scared many, President Schatzel released a campus-wide email encouraging community members to remain civil in light of contrasting opinions and political leanings, though many saw that as an attempt to stifle conversation: "It is up to all of us to lead and model civility and respect in our conversations and relationships with each other," the email concluded. "As a community, let us come together to support each other and not forget that each of us is empowered to make a difference through our professions and in our personal lives each and every day."
On Thursday night, the Towson Freedom School, an educational space for discussion of black issues and something of a home base for local black activists to voice their ideas, presented a "public debate on prison abolition." Founded by Gillespie, the Freedom School was created this semester in order to provide a place for black studies and ideas, which Towson lacks. The group meets once a week, on Thursday evenings, to discuss various intersectional issues and suggested readings, usually from black activists and intellectuals. Last week's meeting was meant to be followed by a healing circle in response to Election Day's shakeup, but the Freedom School lesson ran long.
Freedom School's meetings are inclusive yet the group itself stands out against the university's overwhelmingly white population. Around 60 percent of Towson students are white, while only about 16 percent are black. Numbers pertaining to faculty diversity and the largely white tenured population reflect just as poorly on the university, which claims it is actively trying to rectify representation discrepancies.
"An overwhelming amount of white people chose to vote for Donald Trump, and what that says is you as a white person hate me so much, hate poor people so much, hate Muslim people so much, hate reproductive rights so much, hate mental health rights so much, that you decided to vote against your own well-being to see that I do not have rights," student activist Bilphena Yahwon said at the protest. "That's exactly what occurred. Let's call it what it is."
Students have planned to protest again tomorrow night with a peaceful march through campus.