GW students walked out of class Monday, wrote testimonials documenting racism on campus and marched to the National Mall to inform people about the Jena Six trials and other instances of racial injustice.
“What happened in Jena is a representation,” junior Johanna Leonidas said. “I think it’s time we get all the skeletons out of the closet and address these issues.”
She continued, “If we can’t make a statement to the whole wide world, at least we can make a statement to the people around us.”
About 50 students gathered in Kogan Plaza and 20 students marched down to the National Mall to join students from Howard and Georgetown.
The Black Student Union and the Multicultural Student Services Center coordinated the events in Kogan Plaza. The walk-out and the march to the Mall were a part of the National Call to Injustice and Intolerance, a nationwide protest involving more than 50 colleges and universities.
“GW wanted to be a part of that, given its political interests,” said Charles Basden, a senior and president of the BSU. “It doesn’t all begin and end with the Iraq War.”
Six high school students in Jena, La., were charged with attempted second-degree murder for beating a white classmate after a noose was hung from a tree in their school yard. Many say the charges are excessive and that the students’ actions were in response to a hate crime.
Sophomore Irene Ojo-Felix said about 15 students – half of her African-American history class – walked out for the protest, with the support of the professor.
“What we’ve been trying to do is inform students, and they’ve been informing us (about racial incidents on campus),” said Michael Tapscott, director of the MSSC.
Organizers handed out copies of articles on racial incidents at other colleges. These include a noose found hanging at Maryland’s campus last month and themed parties enforcing racial stereotypes that have taken place at Johns Hopkins University.
In Kogan Plaza, demonstration organizers asked students to document instances of racial injustice on GW’s campus and describe what they hoped to see change. Organizers told the crowd they would forward these testimonials to the University to make administrators more aware of what was happening on campus.
The group that marched to the Mall spoke to students from other universities about racism at their schools and proposed that leaders from D.C. area schools meet to talk about racism on college campuses.
While some present at the rally spoke about taking action against the Jena community, junior Amy Dorfman said efforts to combat racism should be focused closer to home.
“I think we could also focus a lot on D.C. and what’s going on here,” she said. “If we’re not even focusing on local politics, then who are we to yell at Louisiana?”
Junior Mei Loo told the crowd on the National Mall that the GW’s efforts in Kogan Plaza catered toward a much wider, less radical audience.
“It’s all about marching and all about being very dramatic,” she said, “But the thing is everyone needs to be involved.”