Revelry takes a backseat to protest for social change

PHOTO BY KELLY PIEN ‘22 | PHOTO EDITOR  The student body bands together, prioritizing the safety of students of color over celebration.

PHOTO BY KELLY PIEN ‘22 | PHOTO EDITOR

The student body bands together, prioritizing the safety of students of color over celebration.

Emily Buxengaard ‘22 | Assistant News Editor

Matilda Cantwell, the Director of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, urged during her opening remarks of Convocation that we must be “the builders of bridges and breakers of barriers.” This statement was an excellent characterization of the night as a whole, as Black students, other people of color and allies called for a safe environment for everyone.

Following a picnic on Davis lawn, students prepared their outfits for Convocation. Houses showed their spirit, as usual, with a variety of themes — mostly involving puns. Students living in Hubbard came dressed as pizza boxes and slices for their theme of “Pizza Hub,” while Duckett House embodied the “Quackstreet Boys.”

The whole student body danced in the seats of the John M. Greene auditorium, shouting as they welcomed in the new school year and gave first years a taste of Smith tradition. The noise was deafening, with house cheers and stomping filling the air.

Indeed, it almost seemed as if nothing had happened in the past month.

However, the event took a turn once a line of students clad in black marched in front of the stage, morphing the festivities into something far more powerful.

Following the incident on July 31, when campus police were called on a black student, there has been widespread uproar. To many, Convocation seemed to be the perfect platform to decry racial bias and profiling in all of its forms.

An enormous Black Lives Matter banner was dropped down from the upper level of the hall, and protestors carried signs conveying similar messages. One read, “Black students belong,” while another implored Smith to “Do better.” The protests came on the heels of — what the Student Government Association president Bri Barrett ‘19 called — a “catalyst for needed change.”

Perhaps the most powerful moment was when everyone in John M. Greene stomped in unison, chanting, “When black students are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

Even the faculty members on stage joined the demand for Smith to live up to its promise of diversity and inclusion.

After President Kathleen McCartney and Barrett finished their speeches, students marched out of the ceremony, abandoning "Gaudeamus Igitur" cards. Everyone gathered outside the auditorium, where student representatives from the Black Students Alliance and Smith African and Caribbean Student Association were present on the steps.

Amanda Nwankwo ’20 addressed the audience and was quickly handed a megaphone when her voice could not be heard by the enormous crowd. Her speech was short and off-the-cuff, expressing disappointment and anger about the racism experienced by Black students on-campus.

After the address, students headed for the carnival on Chapin Lawn, continuing discussions of what more could be done.

Many attendees pointed out that while the show of support was impressive, compared to past responses to instances of racial bias, the protests and outrage should not cease.

Speakers at Convocation, both formal and informal, urged everyone to sustain conversations about mitigating racism across the campus, as a whole.

After all the commotion, Convocation returned to its usual state. The following celebration began in earnest, with bouncy castles, food, free t-shirts and dancing.

Illuminated under enormous floodlights, Smith truly came alive — a final party before the start of classes, homework and the daily grind. As the night wound down and food trucks departed, there was a sense of unity, in both protest and celebration.

Edited 9/15/18: In a previous version of this article, we had chosen a different photo which whitewashed this protest. The article has been updated to include a photo that is more accurate in showing the students who led the protest.

Sophian Smith