Black lives matter rally raises concerns at Washburn

Washburn students, faculty and staff can attend the rescheduled rally Friday


File Photo by Hailey Mann

On June 4, 2020, Washburn students organized a peaceful rally and march around the northeast perimeter of campus. The full story can be found in the August 2020 edition of the Bod Magazine.

The Washburn Student Government Association has planned a Black Lives Matter rally at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 in Yager Stadium.

WSGA Vice President Mayela Campa and Diversity and Inclusion Director Brandon Moreno are the organizers of this event. Campa said that she took notice of the many rallies and protests taking place nationwide and wanted to get Washburn involved in the ongoing conversation.

“The administration currently can’t really do much about saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ and stuff like that, and I think a rally is the best way to show that we care about students of color,” said Campa. “It’s the only way to show and help them amplify their voices. So just by having this event at Washburn, it says a lot about our students.”

The rally comes to Washburn at a time when such gatherings have generated nationwide and worldwide discussions about race relations and racial equity.

Washburn Police will be sending a group of their officers to the event on Friday night, just like they would for any large gathering on campus. Police Chief Chris Enos believes it is unlikely that counter-protesters will show up, and he does not expect any violence.

“We’ve met with the organizers and discussed their plans as far as how the event will be staffed by volunteers and students and staff members,” said Enos. “Then, based on that staffing, we set up our plans to ensure that there are safety measures and contingency plans.”

He emphasized that his role as the police chief of Washburn is to make sure that the free speech of all students on campus is protected during the rally, and in all other settings.

Due to COVID-19, maximum attendance will be limited to 500 Washburn students, faculty and staff. Not everyone is happy to have this event on campus, and some have taken to the university’s Facebook page to share their disapproval.

There was a peaceful campus rally on campus in early June. The story is covered in the August 2020 issue of Student Media’s Bod Magazine.

Eric Grospitch, vice president of Student Life, has helped organize the rally. He has allowed WSGA to continue with the rally that was rescheduled from earlier this semester.

“This is a student-driven initiative, and we support their conversations,” said Grospitch. “Our role is really to support our students in their critical conversations. They are following both campus and Shawnee County COVID-19 guidelines, which is our requirement.”

WSGA has partnered with other organizations on campus, such as the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Student Life to get this rally in order. However, the Black Student Union was not involved with the organization of the rally.

Alona Harrison, Black Student Union president, said she believes the rally is an important event that could serve as a catalyst for future changes. However, Harrison said that the organization is shifting its focus away from speeches and more to action.

“We don’t need to say anything that hasn’t already been said,” said Harrison. “We’re working on creating actions to create real change.”

Muffy Walter, who is the BSU faculty advisor and an assistant professor of English, said that the organization is important for students of color, as they are in a predominantly white institution.

“I do think racial equity is an issue on campus,” said Walter. “Just because people don’t burn crosses or wear white hoods doesn’t mean that things they say or do don’t have implications of racism in them.”

Washburn has a long history of being more forward thinking for the time period. The land that we now call campus was donated to the university by an abolitionist. Additionally, the first class at Washburn also contained both men and women, including an African-American man in 1865.

However, Washburn also has multiple instances in its past that have brought up discussions of race. Students and faculty may recall an incident in 2019 when racially insensitive videos from a Washburn student circled the internet, prompting the hashtag and movement #WUCanDoBetter.

It is important to remember all parts of our history–the good and the bad.

The rally will be maintained by a team of volunteers from the university who will be in charge of making sure that things do not get out of hand. The event is open only to Washburn students, staff and faculty with valid IDs and tickets. To register for a ticket, use this link.

A variety of speakers will be present during the event and there will also be a performance by WSGA President Victoria Smith, who will be singing the “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is also referred to as the Black national anthem.

It is required that students also wear masks in accordance with Shawnee County health guidelines and practice social distancing as much as possible.

Edited by Abbie Barth, Jason Morrison