Brianna Holmes crossed her arms and tapped her fingers against her bicep impatiently. The 22 year old from Washington D.C. is a member of Student Government Inc. (SGI), and, like many, is ready for change on St. John’s campus.
After racially charged slurs and blackmail was sent by a white St. John’s student to another student of color, protests broke out on campus, culminating in a town hall with the president, Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw that at times looked more like a protest itself. SGI is creating a new Diversity Committee to make events that answer these concerns on campus.
“Ironically, we had a proposal to make these events about a week before this all happened,” said Holmes with a half hearted laugh.
Unfortunately, the problem that made this all happen is not as simple as an SGI committee. Division and fighting between student organizations that stand for diversity related causes is discrediting the movement that is starting at St. John’s for equality.
Organizations like Students of Consciousness, Eden, and Haraya, all stand for the same goal being equality for black and brown students, but they do not agree on what means are necessary to get there. Their disagreements were shown at the town hall, right in front of Gempesaw, when half of the crowd stormed out and a fight broke out that abruptly ended the event.
“The fact that the administration saw the division in the organizations kind of killed it,” said Holmes.
Gempesaw did write a response to the bullying events that happened on campus condemning the attacks and saying, “I understand the feelings of pain and frustration this incident evoked in members of our student body. I have been told by individual students that our campus climate has not always been welcoming and affirming to them. This saddens me very much.”
Many, like Holmes, were unhappy with this response saying, “I don’t want to say it was cold, but it was silent,” of Gempesaw’s letter.
This is not an unfamiliar battle on college campuses. In 2017, a similar event took place at Boston College, another large Roman Catholic university in Massachusetts. More incidents came at schools like Cornell, the University of New Hampshire, and countless others.
These incidents and protests come at a time when more than 50% of hate crimes in the United States are on the basis of anti-black bias, according to the FBI. As a whole, hate crimes rose in both 2015 and 2016, according to Reuters.
At St. John’s, regardless of where the administration stands, Holmes wants students to know that SGI stands on the side of the students.
“Yes, we do stand on the side of the students, and that includes the people protesting,” said Holmes.