Across three days in early April 2012, Ohio State became a fast-paced, minute-to-minute, surge of activism, with potential for longevity, characterized by the message “stand your ground”.
Time for Action
Twenty four hours after a candlelight vigil for social justice, Hoodies and Headscarves, on Wed. April 4 at 7pm, Ohio State (OSU) students began organizing to bring three minimum demands to the Board of Trustees regarding hate crimes and diversity, Thurs. April 5 at 7pm.
Student activists voting by show of hands. Photo by Sam Cooler.
Next day, Fri. April 6, about 170 students and faculty marched single-file to the Board of Trustees meeting at the Longaberger Alumni House from the Hale Black Cultural Center, delivered their demands, joined a solutions taskforce reporting to the university president and the Board of Trustees, and – same day – held a sit-in in The Ohio Union until they won the first demand: hate crime alerts for the Ohio State University.
Currently, there is a burgeoning movement, OSU Stand Your Ground, of students, faculty, staff, and community members following up on the remaining minimum demands for Ohio State along with proponing social justice and racial equality. The movement’s taskforce has a three week period to draft solutions to bring to president E. Gordon Gee and the Board of Trustee’s working group.
Precipitating Events – Hate Crimes
Wed. April 4, Ohio State students and community members gathered for a candlelight vigil called Hoodies & Headscarves in memory of Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi during the evening. This was a peaceful on-campus event against hate crimes and calling out for justice.
During the vigil, a man walked through the crowd with an empty gun holster in attempts to disrupt the ceremony. Police were called and the man and his associates were removed from the vigil.
The following morning, Thurs. April 5, the words “Long Live Zimmerman” were spray-painted on the Hale Black Cultural Center. Students, faculty, and community members reacted immediately with outrage calling for recognition of the vandalism – not just as vandalism – but as a hate crime.
Message from university president
Ohio State president Gee responded in a statement that afternoon describing the vandalism incident as, “not who we are at Ohio State. Racism will not be tolerated on our campus” and that the university, “must engage with an open mind,” if it would reaffirm Ohio State’s principle of inclusion. Gee’s statement included a call for, “each of us to speak out against messages of hatred and injustice”.
“Attack on Ethnic Studies” Spurs Activism
An “Attack on Ethnic Studies” talk held that afternoon, which addressed the suppression of ethnic programs on college campuses nationally, became a hub for activism surrounding the racially charged vandalism occurring earlier that day. During the conversation, Dr. Leslie Alexander, one of the faculty speakers, addressed the incident at the Hale Center and noted that eliminating ethnic studies programs on college campuses only permits “hate crimes” to occur as the perspective of various minority groups are not given the deference they deserve.
Immediately following the event, students and faculty gathered and drafted their Solidarity Letter/Petition, and came up with two points they would like the university to comply with. The petition was posted and passed out at an NAACP meeting at the Hale Center at 5:45pm and the crime response meeting at 7pm.
Flooded with Commitment – Crime Response Meeting
That evening, Thurs. April 5, the Ohio State Black Student Association (BSA) hosted an open-to-the-OSU-community meeting in order to respond to and address the “Long Live Zimmerman” vandalism.
With just a few hours of notice, about 300 students, faculty, staff, and community members flooded the BSA’s crime response meeting in the Hale Black Cultural Center’s MLK Lounge and surrounding rooms.
Administrators, faculty, and community members spoke first – driving home the point that hate crimes would not be tolerated in “our house”, referring to Ohio State, and beseeching the students to organize themselves and to appeal to the university: to do something about it.
“[Some people think students are] Apathetic, not activists, unfocused young people. But, with all of these young people here [tonight], is proof: Not in our house. The OSU house, The Hale Center…We are important to one and other, we embrace each other, support each other” said Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president for student life.
Student attention was raised to the Board of Trustees meeting early the next morning and students quickly took up the idea to march to the Board of Trustees and present demands, two of these originated from the Solidarity Letter/Petition.
The students then stood up, proposing ideas and suggestions for the three demands. Several students called for increased unity among black students and among the entire student population. At time and place was agreed upon by the attendees to meet and go to the Board of Trustees meeting.
March into the Board of Trustees Meeting- Three Demands
On Fri. April 6, at 8:30 am about 170 students, faculty, administrators, staff, and community members marched single-file wearing all black from the Hale Black Cultural Center, vandalized with hate speech just one day prior, to the Longaberger Alumni House where the Board of Trustees meeting would be in session.
Students march to the Board meeting. Photo by Sam Cooler.
The students sang the Black National Anthem and repeated chants like, “Ohio State: Stand your ground” and “No justice. No peace,” along with calls to, “End racism now!” Signs featured, “Enough is enough,” and “#Ohio State Stand Your Ground” along with “I Will Not Be Simply Tolerated” and “More Minority Representation”.
Silently entering the Board of Trustees meeting the student activists and their faculty, staff, community, and administration supporters were greeted by Gee, who was expecting them, and the two students presenting the minimum demands sat down to speak.
The demands of: hate crime alerts, increased diversity – both at the student and faculty level, and inclusion, not just tolerance were read off.
Gee announced a taskforce would be created that would include students, faculty, and staff chaired by vice president for student life Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston and vice provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer Dr. Valerie Lee that would be charged with providing recommendations for solutions due in three weeks to president Gee and the Board of Trustees’ Diversity and Inclusion Working Group.
The Board of Trustees gave the activists a standing ovation.
Off-campus Hate Crime Escalates Action
After the meeting with the Board of Trustees, just outside of the Longaberger Alumni House, OSU Stand Your Ground organizers learned of another racially charged vandalism incident on the Obama mural located on 4th Street and 12th Avenue (by off-campus student residences) increasing the call for a hate crime alert to be instituted. The vandalism allowed the OSU SYG movement to demonstrate that the incident at Hale was not isolated. With two racially charged vandalism incidents occurring over a 24-hour span, OSU SYG deemed it necessary for the university to immediately cede to their first demand: implement the alert.
Sit-in for Immediate Creation of Hate Crime Alert System
Students marched back to the Hale Center, deciding to move up the time for a scheduled sit-in from 4pm to 12 noon due to the escalation, and then marched to Ohio State’s Ohio Union for a sit-in demanding the immediate creation of a hate crime alert system, just one day after the vandalism of the Hale Center and crime response meeting.
Student sit-in at the Ohio Union. Photo by Sam Cooler.
The first all-campus hate crime alert message was sent out from Public Safety around 4:30pm.
As it stands, the on-campus hate crime and off-campus hate crime instances were the catalysts for this Ohio State-based social justice movement. According to the movement’s Statement of Solidarity, which also functions as a petition to be signed in solidarity by Ohio State community members or by the public, it also seeks to address the “larger context of hatred” beyond the university and that the activists claim they, “will neither be intimidated by this incident [Hale center vandalism] nor pressured to abandon our support,” of social justice causes.
For now, the activists in OSU Stand Your Ground and president Gee, backed by the Board of Trustees, claim to be standing their ground against racism. Gee said to the student activists at the Board meeting, “It’s not about you; it’s about all of us.”
However, the minute-to-minute pace of this movement did not stop with the first demand, instead, within the next three weeks and by the date of the taskforce’s meeting with Gee and the Board working group, it will be discovered if this solidarity will create sweeping or small changes related to the demands.
Scope – National Implications
It has yet to be determined if more buckeyes or colleges around the nation will join in what Gee, in his statement on the Hale Center vandalism, termed to be, “a lead role in heightening awareness and seeking productive solutions to racial injustice that continues to challenge our country.”
Photos in this article by Sam Cooler.