UMBC’s ambivalence in the face of change
Given the sudden influx of global action over the past year or so, students of UMBC have recently been exposed to civil unrest on and off campus. Is this activism inherently welcomed?
After an unwelcome wave of global crises that were sprinkled throughout the summer of 2014, it appeared that the fall would come bearing fruit as Israel and Hamas agreed to an open ceasefire, allowing Gazans to sleep easy after months of unrelenting devastation.
However, autumn brought Ebola’s wrath, a worldwide medical nightmare (not to mention a constant state of emergency for those in infected countries).
The winter brought about the beginning of a New Civil Rights Era as both Mike Brown and Eric Garner’s killers walked free while protesters around the world marched to bring down a burgeoning police state.
As America inches into the spring, over 2000 Nigerian citizens have been slaughtered in what many have deemed Boko Haram’s “bloodiest massacre,” and 12 French civilians were gunned down by extremists, prompting a muddy debate of freedom versus ethics. In a sense, the world is on fire.
And this fire has made its way to our humble institution. It has invaded class discussions, club meetings and even prompted forums and protests on campus.
This leaves some wondering if UMBC can be considered to be an “involved” community.
Senior psychology major Alex Seminario said that he’d participate in a protest on campus if he “saw a well-organized cause.”
“I would feel comfortable [protesting on-campus],” Seminario said, “if more people engaged in a well-organized and noble cause, the better the chances of the message being retained.”
Vanessa Barksdale, a sophomore social work major and a member of the Black Student Union, helped organize and host the UMBC for Ferguson forum in December in which a faculty member noted that the protests on campus were small. Why?
Perhaps many students were understandably too busy during that pivotal point of the
semester with finals and registration looming over their heads. Perhaps it was just too cold.
However, Barksdale proposed another reason why activism on-campus may be looked over or forgotten. “What we do [every year] is a Critical Social Justice Week, which is fine,” she said, “but in order for our community to be perpetually involved, we should keep the conversation going.”
Social justice issues aren’t isolated events but profound recurring issues within our society. That one week a year devoted to general human rights issues and violations isn’t enough to have the thorough discussion necessary to tackle such institutions.
It does appear that non-students have found UMBC as a sort of safe, welcoming space for activism that they may never have found otherwise.
Catonsville High student and future Retriever, Lane Kennedy, said he’s found UMBC
more embracing of activism in comparison to his own school.
When asked about his and his friends’ participation in the protests following Darren Wilson’s non-indictment, Kennedy claimed that, “[The activists on-campus] were all really receptive to us. It definitely made me want to keep getting involved at UMBC.”
“It was pretty well-facilitated,” said Kennedy. “I guess it was because of finals, but so many things seemed more important than disrupting traffic. You can only expect so much from people.”
What one must recognize, however, is that these protests occurred over a month ago. It isn’t as though the world’s stopped turning since then. In fact, there have been several domestic and international crises that require a call to action. From Charlie Hebdo to Boko Haram.
So, why have there been no protests?
To answer this, one must keep in mind the point of protests: to challenge authority. Protests are meant to bring down whatever oppressive system in focus. The #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations were set in place to challenge dangerous police protocol and call for a reform. The non-indictment of Darren Wilson (among others) brought to attention a glaring issue within our system.
In order for protests against Boko Haram to be effective, there would need to be an oppressive institution to fight against. Otherwise, we’re rebelling against the rebels and nothing changes.
UMBC appears to be generally accepting of activists, but the community could be stronger and the conversation should continue. Nonetheless, we should always ask ourselves: What else is happening that needs our attention?