On Aug. 16, the Valparaiso University Student Organizing Committee (VUSOC) hosted a Black Lives Matter protest.
Students and faculty wore all black and donned posters to protest peacefully while freshmen entered Brown Field for convocation close by. VUSOC member Reese Jones explained that the choice to overlap with the annual convocation was neither accidental or malicious.
“The reason why we decided to protest during the convocation is because, one, we wanted the freshmen to know that there are students on campus who care about the spaces for them, particularly students of color, who are new to Valpo, we wanted to let them know that these spaces on campus are being maintained for them, and that they have a home here,” said Jones. “We wanted to make it as comfortable as possible for them. We thought it would be the perfect place to be heard because all these people here gathered in one space, faculty, staff, administrators, it was just kind of the perfect opportunity.”
Members from both VUPD and the Porter County Health Department were present to assist the student organizers and maintain a safe environment amongst COVID-19 concerns. The VUSOC worked with both of these organizations, as well as Valpo administration when planning the event.
“I think the protests in the city are extremely different from the protests on campus because campus is an enclosed space. And I think this would be the perfect opportunity for students who may not feel comfortable in that setting to definitely feel safe here and know that they're going to be protected if anything were to go wrong. This is a space for them to express their opinions,” Jones said.
The protest included several chants, a brief discussion of the students’ demands for action from the university, and speeches from the organizers. For the link to the list of demands, view this article on ValpoTorch.com.
Some of the mentioned initiatives include increasing recruitment for students and staff of color as well as reducing hate speech and racial profiling. Braxton Jenkins, one of the student speakers, spoke about the opposition between faith and systemic racism, urging Valpo alumni and administration to follow their values in university policies.
“We the students will never be truly free until the university's donors and leaders prioritize its faith to work in conjunction with the justice it speaks about,” Jenkins said. “This country is built on racism, it seeps into every fabric of our nation of our lives, and we all benefit or are at some sort of disadvantage because of racism… People have to be observant enough and listening enough and able to call it out at the appropriate time to really bring about change in that institution.”
Student Senate plans to support and bring legislation to administration regarding the demands outlined by the VUSOC. President Kaitlyn Steinhiser spoke highly of the students protesting and of future changes from student led initiatives.
“Everyone comes to Valpo with a wealth of knowledge, and we can't be missing out on that knowledge. Everyone on campus needs to be talking about these issues, engage students in your class that wouldn't usually be involved in an organization like this, encourage people to run for Student Senate. It's really just getting your peers engaged. It's the best thing you can do to make people care,” Steinhiser said.
In addition to student approval, Interim President-Elect Colette Irwin-Knott stated that the university will be taking the list of student demands into serious consideration. Other faculty members showed their support for the protest by joining instead of participating in convocation or expressing their admiration to students after the event.
The VUSOC is dedicated to addressing issues on campus and joining forces with other student organizations to make meaningful change. Students interested in more information about joining or upcoming events can check their instagram @vustudentsorganizing and email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.