Student activists are planning another collective day of action on college and university campuses across the country.
Scheduled for Thursday, December 3, this next #StudentBlackOut has two purposes according to organizers. First, according to David Turner, a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, Thursday’s day of action is meant to keep the momentum of their movement going.
“At this moment we have up to 70 colleges and universities who have issued demands on their campuses. This action is another push to get our demands met,” the 24-year-old, Inglewood native told NBCBLK.
In addition, Thursday’s day of action is a declaration.
“In the last three weeks we have seen a big retaliation to the movement,” he said. “We have seen the shootings in Minneapolis, police action in Chicago against Black Youth Project 100, racial terrorism at Mizzou and tape on the portraits of black faculty at Harvard Law School. We have seen all of this and we need to respond.”
Turner is a member of Black Liberation Collective’s steering committee, the umbrella entity responsible for organizing #StudentBlackOut nationally. Much of his focus has been in framing, education and support.
“We do not want to be the leaders of the movement. What we want to do is figure out the best way to support leaders,” he said. “If you are brave enough to organize, [we want to know] how do we help you? We believe strong people do not need strong leaders.”
“We want to transform higher education, this is one aspect to the black liberation struggle.”
It is not a movement where a group of people make decisions for the masses; this is a movement where a group of people make decisions for themselves.
And while students are making decisions on their respective campuses, BLC is working to provide resources – which include showing as much love and support as possible. On a recent national phone conference, the creation of a self-care tool kit was suggested as a resource for student leaders. This tool kit will be similar to the demands tool kit they developed prior to the first day of action.
The realities of activism are demanding and dangerous.
“Yes, it does have an impact on your academics and school. [Leaders] are trying to help coordinate an action and also have a paper due. While you are occupying a building you are doing your stats homework,” Turner highlights. “There is a very real effect on your academic work, but students are also gaining skills in real-time. It’s a very weird dance.”
But it’s a dance Turner believes is necessary. While students’ grades are potentially being impacted by their participation in the movement, the movement is also grooming and boosting leaders.
“One young lady reported to me that she is more willing to speak up in class now since the movement began. That’s huge. That’s amazing,” he said. “The movement is a big confidence booster. This moment is doing something very positive for black students that I do not think the academy can even understand yet.”
Olivia Castor, a third year student at Harvard College points out there is a real emotional toll to racial justice activism that is one of the most overlooked aspects.
“I can't count the number of classes I've missed, assignments I've turned in late, and days where I've just laid in bed all day because I couldn't get the images of Black bodies being gunned down in the streets, in their homes, on college campus, or in church, out of my head,” she said. “We have to write our papers, complete our jobs, go to practice, and plan rallies. We have to attend our classes, apply for internships, participate in our games, and hold die-ins. However, this is not to say that student activism is all bad because without these experiences, I would not be the person that I am today.”
She points out that balancing the competitive nature of the environment while also serving in the role of educator to her peers around issues of difference is a tall order. There is little room for self-care, she said, but all still very rewarding.
“I'm aware that this sounds extremely cliché, but being able to work with your administration to implement programming on campus for students of color, dancing in the snow because our Black is Beautiful, and hearing professors tell you how the actions that you've planned have impacted their lives and changed their worldview has been much more valuable than any "A" I've received in the classroom,” Castor said.
But with that, the dangers are also very real. Turner has heard reports of females in the movement receiving threats of rape, some students have received death threats, while others have been stalked or followed by other students as well as law enforcement on their campuses.
The movement is a big confidence booster. This moment is doing something very positive for black students that I do not think the academy can even understand yet.”
“As a cisgender, 6’5”, 300 lbs., heterosexual man, what I personally experience is going to be different from what others are experiencing,” Turner points out. “It’s a very complex situation for some.”
Castor reports she has been the victim of more micro-aggressions than any major threat, however, they are all draining nonetheless. Requests to give her white peers twerking instructions, violations of personal space like others sticking their fingers in her hair, and explaining to her Asian housemate her relationship to other black females as classmates and not family members have been a few instances.
“Each of these interactions has definitely altered my view of the world and the students that I share Harvard with,” she said. “I've become much more jaded and suspicious of self-purported "allies", but I'm also thankful that none of them, or any outsiders, have escalated these micro-aggressions to actual physical violence.”
Turner commends the work and sacrifice his female counterparts have committed to their present movement. He said this is not the movement of the 1960s where men led and the women supported and organized from the back.
“This is a movement where queer, black women have led and have been very intentional about relationship and atmosphere building,” he said. “I will always shout out my sisters. They have been rendered invisible for so long.”
It is difficult to predict or know what Thursday’s day of action will bring or what will be seen. Harvard College does not have anything planned, but Castor thinks there may be events at the various graduate and professional schools.
Each campus is different and each event has to be specific to that campus’ need – which is intentional to the movement. What is to be expected is much of what occurred during the previous day of action -- marches, sit-ins, the occupation of administrative buildings, and students/allies wearing all black.
“We want to transform higher education, this is one aspect to the black liberation struggle,” added Turner. “We as black people have always tied education to our freedom. Now we are doing the same thing again. This is a piece of our organizing and activist tradition.”