Black Lives Matter demonstration in response to bias incident


Thea Gonzales

Students gathered on the lower quad to listen to speeches and poetry in support of the Black Lives Matter movement on Friday, May 4. The demonstration was organized by first-year students Talaylah Lemon and Ashanti Mobley in response to a bias incident report at the Black Culture House last month.
According to Lemon, someone taped a piece of paper to the house’s sign that said, “We kill more blacks than the Klan.” The paper also had the Planned Parenthood label on it and said, “Black lives are just matter.”
After feeling initial discomfort and outrage because of the incident, Mobley said that the main reason behind organizing the demonstration was to show the Augustana community that they weren’t afraid and that black lives matter.
“The part that said ‘Black lives are just matter’ was disrespectful. It kind of felt like we didn’t matter,” Mobley said. “For them to say that black lives are just matter, saying that was basically negating the movement and by doing that is detrimental to proving that black lives matter and getting people to see that. We’re doing this to make sure that it is known that Black lives do matter.”
Interim Office of Multicultural Student Life (OMSL) Director Michael Rogers spoke during the demonstration and commended both first-year students for organizing the event. 
“It brings me great joy to see first-year students advocating for the type of change in culture they want to see on our campus and in our society,” Roger said. “It reminds me that although we will always be faced with challenges, there will always be leaders who stand for justice even in the midst of great injustice.”
According to Rogers, people often are afraid to say the phrase “black lives matter” because it is associated with being too aggressive or radical. However, Rogers said, the movement is not about saying that other lives don’t matter but recognizing that black people have been disproportionately targeted in American history and trying to understand that struggle.
Though the demonstration was a key step in making the college more inclusive, Rogers raised a challenge for other students to step up and be allies for issues that don’t directly impact them.
“I just hope that we can keep the momentum moving forward on issues of diversity and inclusion and that the conversation doesn’t stop here,” Roger said. “I hope that people will spread the word, be more involved, come to events, and actually do something, as opposed to just talk.”
The demonstration also featured an open mic where students could share poetry in response to the incident and an appearance from Student Government Association (SGA) representatives who acknowledged SGA’s “checkered past” of not supporting underrepresented groups on campus.
According to Adam Gronewald, junior and president of SGA, behavior like the kind exhibited in the incident report has no place at Augustana. With new SGA leadership, he said, the time for solidarity is now.
“Student Government Association, Vice President Hartmann, and I will not make those same failures – not supporting our peers in their time of need. Student Government Association will not tolerate discrimination on this campus in any form,” Gronewald said. “We are deeply sickened that a member of Augustana’s community vandalized Black Culture House in this fashion and consequently make them question their safety here. Augustana needs to be a home for all of its students, and no one on this campus should feel unsafe, isolated, or afraid.”
Monica Smith, Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, spoke about the anger and hurt that the incident caused in her. However, she said, the bravery of the first-year students who organized the event turned an incident that caused fear into one that inspired.
“The dialogue that has happened since this response has been one-sided. I’ve only heard the voices of the would-be victims, and I’ve heard for the first week or so those voices that have expressed confusion or pain,” Smith said. “But today, those would-be victims have chosen to use this platform to empower themselves and to mobilize others toward action, civil discourse, community-building and strengthening relationships.”
Photo above: First-year student Talaylah Lemon, from left, OMSL interim director Michael Rogers and first-year student Ashanti Mobley speak about the incident at Black Culture House and the importance of recognizing that black lives still matter. The demonstration included speeches from faculty as well as open mic participation from students who shared poetry. Photo by Thea Gonzales.