By Nathan Terry
Amidst nationwide protests held at NFL games, St. Michael’s College students took part in their own protest to bring awareness to the ongoing issues faced by minorities. About 120 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered at Durick Library the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 27 to bring awareness to the unfair treatment of black and other minority citizens in our country. The protesters held lighted candles and took a knee during the gathering, and organizers spoke about the importance of action and standing up for the oppressed.
“Our nation is in a unique time in our history,” said Melanie Castillo ’18, the organizer of the protest. “We have a right to live free of fear and oppression. We can be a source of fear or love. We kneel here today choosing love.”
Castillo also talked about the importance of bringing people together and the ability of people to play more of a role in social change. “It is our right to peacefully protest and execute our freedom of speech. This country belongs to us all.”
Winston Jones II ’19, a basketball player at St. Michael’s, was also one of the speakers at the protest. After being initially hesitant to speak in such a public setting, he said he decided that it was something he wanted to do.
“I felt chosen,” said Jones II. “I talked with Mo [Moise St. Louis, associate dean of students, director of Multicultural Student Services] and he talked me into it.” In his speech to the crowd, Jones said he wanted to bring about a positive change. “Taking a knee is an act of respect. We kneel to pray for better days ahead.”
Shortly after Jones’ speech, many in attendance took a knee. Some kneeling raised fists as a symbol of unity and many began singing “This Little Light of Mine.” After about four minutes, the crowd rose. Castillo thanked everyone for coming, and the crowd dispersed.
There was also a number of students from the SMC Conservatives group who attended the protest but did not take part in the kneeling. Ryan Wurmsdobler ’19, who is one of the members of the group, says he talked with his group to decide what approach they wanted to take.
“We wanted to see what would take place,” Wurmsdobler said. “We believe in creating an open dialogue and this event is definitely a step in the right direction.” However, Wurmsdobler said that he disagreed with the way the protests are being carried out. “We believe that protests against a specific incident should be carried out in a different manner. The anthem and the flag is a sign of unity for the country and taking a knee shows division.”
The movement to take a knee during the national anthem began last summer when NFL and 49ers player Colin Kaepernick knelt on one knee during the national anthem before all of his team’s games to protest the way he believes the country oppresses black people and people of color. In a New York Times article written last fall, Kaepernick’s teammate Eric Reid stated that he and Kaepernick chose to sit on the bench to protest police brutality.
Gradually, more and more players began taking a knee during the anthem, leading up to President Donald Trump’s tweet on Sept. 23 on how he believes players should stand for the anthem, and if it was up to him, any player not standing for the anthem would be fired.
In response to more players kneeling the weekend following his controversial statements, Trump tweeted, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!”
In light of President Trump’s remarks, many NFL owners and players have spoken out about the importance of freedom of speech and the right the players have to protest. Over 250 players across the league took a knee during the anthem following Trump’s tweet, and several teams chose to link arms during the anthem as a sign of unity.
Overall, all parties that attended the student led protest agreed that the event was a step in the right direction for dialogue. After the conclusion of the protest, Castillo thanked Wurmsdobler and his group for attending the gathering. Wurmsdobler says the SMC Conservatives are planning their own events this semester and the next in order to continue the dialogue and create awareness on campus of conservative values. Dates for the gatherings have yet to be announced