Campus News

Students protest for racial justice

Black student leaders organize a march in light of recent grand jury decision

By Erin Albright and Heather Gast
Newswire photo by Eric Maahs
Protestors standing in front of Flynn Hall, raise the “Black Power fist,” as the organizers disband the protest

The following article and abridged interview were first featured on the Sept. 28 episode of Xavier Newswire Live, the Newswire’s weekly live radio show. The full interview can be found at xaviernewswire.com.

Hundreds of students marched through campus last Friday to denounce both the dissatisfying university response to the grand jury verdict that failed to charge LMPD officers for the death of Breonna Taylor, and what Black students see as a historical failure for Xavier administration to provide for their needs on campus.  

Taylor, a Black medical worker, was fatally shot in her Louisville home while LMPD officers Jon Mattingly, Myles Cosgrove and Brett Hankison were serving a no-knock search warrant on the night of March 13. 

On Sept. 23, Hankison was indicted with three counts of wanton endangerment on the basis of stray bullets that entered a neighboring apartment unit. No charges were filed in relation to Taylor’s death. Students waited for a response from their university regarding the indictment, but it wasn’t until 24 hours later that a campus message from university president Father Michael Graham was sent to students. 

Many Black women attending Xavier see themselves in Taylor. Taylor isn’t the first Black woman to be brutalized while the world carries on.

The protests began at the Scales of Justice and later marched to the Flynn Hall. As they walked, the streets and sidewalks were filled with the chant, “Say her name … Breonna Taylor.” 

Organizer Seriah Barnes spoke of the fear she lives with.

“I am a Black woman here at Xavier University, a predominantly White institution, and I did not hear an utterance the day of from any organization on this campus. I want to make that known because I am a Black woman and I am tired. I’m tired of having to speak for myself,” Barnes said. 

The grand jury’s indictment and the university’s response were not the only motivaters for this event. Protest organizers expressed frustration at the lack of Black faculty and staff.

“To me it’s a problem that I see more Black workers in the caf than in the classroom. Represent me in more than a menial job. We’re more than menial jobs,” senior Cameron Lakes said.

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) has served as a safe space for students on campus and is often cited as a source of support for Black students. 

But protesters argued that CDI Director Dr. Kyra Shahid and the few other Black staff members that work with students bear an overwhelming burden as some of the only resources for Black students. A number of students came forward to give testimony to their experiences with academic advising that they feel were tainted by racial discrimination along with a lack of representation. 

“Now I don’t know how many of y’all realize, but I ain’t seen one Black nursing professor, professor, any one administrator in that building,” Sierra Stennis, a senior nursing major said. “And I’m gonna tell you something else. It’s because that nursing program decided to hold me back because I am a minority. They were trying to tell me that my GPA isn’t what it is. My GPA was perfectly fine.” 

The crowd of protestors filled with deans, coaches, athletes and hundreds of other members of the Xavier community as well as people from the University of Cincinnati and the surrounding Norwood community. 

David Mengel, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, noted his pride that students were comfortable speaking up on campus. 

“I’m thrilled to be watching our students step up and step out as the case is,” Mengel said. “It’s a really important moment for them to make their voices heard, both for what’s going on in society and what’s going on on campus.  So I wanted to be here to listen and see what they have to say.”

Practices were cancelled to allow student-athletes to attend, including the men’s and women’s basketball teams. 

Women’s head basketball coach Melanie Moore was seen standing proudly with members of the basketball team, saying that we “must listen, be the change, and educate ourselves.” Men’s head basketball coach Travis Steele was also in attendance.

For Daniel Ramsey, a sophomore forward on Xavier’s men’s basketball team, attending Friday’s protest was to stand in unity with victims of racial injustices. 

“We just wanted to take a stand as a team just to show our unity and how we feel about things that happened with the Breonna Taylor trial and that whole situation so we thought this was a good way to get in some good trouble and use our voices and our platform to really bring about change,” Ramsey said. 

Protestors hope that Friday’s demonstration is the spark Xavier administration needs to begin making changes and end racial injustice on campus. 

One of the final students who spoke to the group of protestors said, “We are tired.. We are crying, and the fact that you guys have to ask us, ‘what can we do?’ what do you mean, what can I do? We are tired of explaining it. I hope the administration is out here taking notes. I hope you’re out here listening instead of just saying, ‘Oh I came to that’. Quit asking me what you can do.”

Abridged Xavier Newswire Live post-article interview transcript:

Interviewer: 

  At what point did you know that a protest needed to be organized?

Seriah Barnes:

  So on Wednesday, when that jury decision came out, my mom actually informed me before anybody else did. It took a moment for me to just really process that this was happening. I knew at that moment. I picked up the phone, I called the president for LEAD (LEAD) and was like, ‘something has to happen.’ 

Interviewer: 

  So, can you please just explain to us what the protest was directly at. Who was it directed towards?

Seriah Barnes:

  (The protest) was directed toward Xavier: Xavier administration,  students and senior faculty in general. They haven’t been loud, or making enough noise. During the pandemic everybody was loud. We got back to the campus and everybody became silent.  

Interviewer:

  How can students make changes on Xavier’s campus to address racial injustice?

Seriah Barnes:

Recognize your privilege. I think Xavier has a big problem with people not wanting to speak up because you feel like you’re by yourself in a closed room with just your friends. When you see something, come out and say it. 

Ask for the budget, ask for where your funds are going. Ask ‘why is that person not allowed to graduate, but my GPA is lower than there’s’. Ask questions like that, make sure you’re asking questions. Uplift the voices that are trying to be heard, but cannot be.