University of Richmond students nationwide are joining protests against racism and police brutality, which were issues brought to light by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
Rising senior Phillip Daniel said he had been attending protests in the city of Richmond since they began. Daniel said he had seen protesters break the window of the Virginia attorney general's office, a car explode and the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue covered in graffiti.
“[I’ve been] dedicating all of my time to protesting and advocating for my humanity and the rights of the black and brown people, such as I, to be treated fairly by the police and for the police to actually do their job,” Daniel said.
Daniel said he had come close to being arrested on June 2. After curfew, Daniel was taking part in a peaceful gathering of people discussing their personal beliefs on the current state of the country in downtown Richmond, he said. Police tear-gassed the group, and Daniel and his friend ran behind an apartment complex to hide from police officers who were arresting straggling protesters, Daniel said. A person who lived in the apartment complex took Daniel and his friend inside, where they spent the night, Daniel said.
“Even though almost being arrested was kind of scary, I’ve never felt more alive,” Daniel said.
Rising senior Jesse Amankwaah said he had been attending protests in Trenton, New Jersey, and had enjoyed seeing online conversations take a physical form.
“There is a peace in knowing that now [those in political power] see us," Amankwaah said. "Now they know what we are about.”
Amankwaah brought up the importance of community, especially in a time of mourning among black people, he said.
“Black communities, we mourn with each other, we celebrate with each other," he said. "With the tragic death of George Floyd and many others, I think I really needed [the demonstrations] for my own sanity."
Rising junior Junko Takahashi said she attended demonstrations in Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina. She did so at the discouragement of her parents, who were worried about the dangers posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
During the demonstration in Raleigh, police joined protesters by kneeling alongside them, Takahashi said. However, Takahashi did not see the moment as genuine, she said.
“It became clear that it was a publicity stunt," Takahashi said. "They knelt for maybe 30 seconds and took some pictures and then stood up and didn’t really do anything to further their solidarity. It felt really cool at the beginning .... It was really sad at the same time."
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Takahashi said those who were not able to protest could support black communities by buying from black-owned businesses and donating to bail funds, and the GoFundMe fundraiser created by the UR student governments in collaboration with student organization leaders. The fundraiser is intended to help fund organizations that protect of peaceful protesters and work to end violence resulting from systemic oppression, according to the GoFundMe page.
Takahashi also recognized the power that social media has had throughout the movement.
“Posting on social media is important," Takahashi said. "There are a lot of educational tools on Instagram and Twitter and stuff. And it’s not bad to be posting on social media about that stuff, just make sure that you are following through."
Takahashi also said simply posting on social media should not be the only action taken. Allies must support the black community and continue to challenge systemic racism, she said.
“For a lot of people who don’t normally speak out about things like that, I think [posting on social media is] a good first step, but it’s only a first step and I just don’t want to stagnate there,” Takahashi said.
Other steps could be taken at UR, Takahashi said. She urged UR administration to hire more faculty members who are people of color, specifically black people. Takahashi said she could not name a single black professor who she knew of in her home school, the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business.
“Without that kind of diversity in our faculty and leadership on campus, then change will be really hard to implement,” Takahashi said.
Daniel believes that protesting is just the start of the movement, he said. As awareness begins to grow, members of the UR community must stop being bystanders to racism, he said.
“As a community, we can come together and show the world, even the greater Richmond area, that black lives, you matter, and that we are anti-police brutality all the way," Daniel said. "That for all of the minorities on campus, especially the black and brown ones, we are here for you.”
Amankwaah believes that UR should rethink the ways that resources, particularly funding, are allocated to student groups, he said. He questioned the size of the space allocated for the Multicultural Space in comparison to the plans for the new Wellness Center.
“I’ve always thought that UR was tone-deaf,” Amankwaah said. “You have money for what you want to have money for. There are enough resources on campus, but they might just have to be redistributed to accommodate for things that would make our living experience [as students] on campus better.”
Amankwaah also said students could rethink avenues for advocacy on campus. He urged his peers to think outside of the actions through student organizations.
"We definitely need to think about ways to facilitate organizing [advocacy movements] outside of bureaucracy and student government," Amankwaah said. "Those are one way to change things, but we are so used to that way. I really just want students to come together to develop ideas naturally, organically, without the strings attached and the suits and ties."
Takahashi said allies must be aware of their role as supporters during protests. Takahashi tries to focus her energy on amplifying black voices, she said.
“You have to be doing what the black people there want you to be doing," Takahashi said. "You don’t want to overstep your bounds. You have to come with the mindset of a helper rather than a leader."
Daniel recognizes that the issues surrounding police brutality and systemic racism cannot be solved by only protesting, he said. However, he sees the demonstrations as a first step that U.S. citizens are taking toward a more antiracist country, he said.
“I do think that there’s more work that needs to be done on the people’s side in terms of us educating ourselves on what is best for our society," Daniel said.
Contact international editor Susanna Getis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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