NIAGARA FALLS, NY– “No Justice, No Peace! No Justice, No Peace!”
This is one of the chants that could be heard echoing across the campus of Niagara University from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 16 when 58 students came together to protest racial inequality and discrimination.
Students peeked out of classrooms and dorm rooms to see the protestors clothed in all black, sporting signs declaring their need for equality and representation marching throughout campus.
“We feel like we have not had justice in the school and if we are not having justice we are not going to be peaceful,” said Isis Kay, a student of Niagara University. “We are going to make sure you hear us.”
The student rally roused the entire campus from outside of Alumni Chapel to the Library to Dunleavy to Lower Level Gallagher, stopping at Clet, St. Vincent’s, Golisano, and Castellani, all prominent halls on their way. From the morning to the afternoon, the students walked through the halls holding classrooms full of students and teachers to demonstrate how passionate they are about this issue.
In Lower Level Gallagher, the most common place on campus for NU students to congregate in between classes, students belonging to the protest and non-protesters gathered to hear testimonials and statements on why the protest was happening.
“I’m tired of being 6’2’’, 220 pounds and feel the need to shrink myself down to the size I was when I was five, whenever I walk out of my varsity village house simply to make sure that I don’t make anyone uncomfortable whenever they walk past me,” Zaire James, a senior at Niagara, expressed into a megaphone.
Other testimonials, such as proclaiming that the attendees and faculty of NU have an inability to give the time and patience to correctly say the names of their peers and students or racist comments that are said and covered up with “it was a joke” or “he was drunk”, still hurt feelings. As James had noted, “Drunken words are sober thoughts.”
Contrary to prior belief, the protest was not affiliated with the Black Student Union. It just happened that a prevalent number of students were members of the club. But although the demonstration was not associated with any clubs on campus, it was a student run movement.
The main goal of the protest was to bring attention to certain issues that needed to be brought to light. Kay explained in a hoarse voice after a long day of chanting and speaking that the purpose of the demonstration was to encourage the school to create a black studies program, be a part of the hiring process for the professor and to diversify the administration at Niagara.
Eric Rigg, one of the spokesmen for the event, explicated that there is about one minority professor in each department and 1 out of 10 professors are of an ethnic descent.
Rigg also mentioned tha,t as they were walking by the student resident halls, someone threw water at them and as they were going through the halls, people and professors were yelling at them.
“It’s something that we receive on a daily basis,” admitted Rigg, “And it kind of showed the light that needed to be shown on these instances of hellish activity that is going around campus.”
Several faculty members and professors came to support or listen to the remonstration. One particular communications professor, Doug Tewksbury, cancelled class in support of the protesting students.
“This is about the students, not the faculty,” admitted Tewksbury. “This is a student run movement; we are supporters but we don’t belong to the movement.”
As a response to the demonstration, the NU administration scheduled a “NU Talks Back” as a more organized, calm way to sort out the issue at hand. Several members of the protest came to back up their demonstration from the previous day and explain misconceptions that anyone might have had.
The action items that students came up with to battle racism on campus are to have more awareness and implement awareness campaigns. These would have the goal to destroy the ignorance that some people may have about other races.
The protestors also wanted to make sure that everyone knows that everyone is welcome, no race is excluded and if anyone feels discriminated against they are welcome to join the other students and help make a difference.
“Yes, this is a pro-black movement currently,” Rigg explained. “But all cultures are feeling the same way as well, that’s why they came and supported us, every color, every religion is more than welcome to help us in our cause.”
Changes are being made though. Father Maher has been having monthly meetings with students and faculty about getting more diverse faculty and implementing an African studies program. Another major point being covered is community engagement and how to utilize community service as a tool to teach students about other races and combat the ignorance that is being spread. Next semester they are planning to further discuss this matter and apply the changes that have been conferred.
Changes are being made and that encourages a bright future for the students of Niagara University.
-Article and featured photo by Jade King, photos by Dominic Hannon, PRSSN