When sophomore government and politics major Hayoung Yoo arrived for her sociology class yesterday, she expected to hear a regularly scheduled lecture from her professor, Rashawn Ray.
But Ray’s class, SOCY224: Why are We Still Talking About Race, was instead part of the audience for the first of many “teach-ins” regarding racial issues to be held at this university.
Throughout the semester, a coalition of organizations on the campus, including Black Lives Matter UMD and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, will host talks and public events regarding campuswide and nationwide race relations.
Kanisha Bond, a government and politics professor, spoke yesterday to more than 100 people — including several University Police officers — in an Art-Sociology Building lecture hall about the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement to fuel a better understanding of the social action going on.
“There’s kind of a myth that people at a university like the University of Maryland are not racist,” Chief Diversity Officer Kumea Shorter-Gooden said. “We haven’t shot anybody. We haven’t killed anybody. A Michael Brown incident has not happened here, so we’re not racist.”
Shorter-Gooden said the Black Lives Matter movement aims to raise awareness about how black people are perceived and treated by society. She said she hopes discussing racial issues on the campus can help members of the university community combat stereotypes and create change.
But Shorter-Gooden also said more subtle forms of racism exist on the campus, which cannot be addressed if they are not discussed.
The “Black Lives Matter” slogan originated when “three black, queer women” — Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors — posted the phrase on Facebook in 2012, and it resonated with others, Bond said.
“This movement comes from everyone in this room,” she said. “The movement comes from people.”
Bond also said any social movement could be attributed to two conditions: lighters and sparks. Lighters are the preconditions that set the stage for movements to occur, while sparks are direct, proximate causes or specific events that spur the movement, she said.
Referring to a black social movement specifically, Bond named several common lighters and sparks, including the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, as well as the systematic marginalization of black people.
She said this marginalization also affects all minority groups, women, the poor and the LGBT community and dates back to the Three-Fifths Compromise.
“What social movement allows us to do is to say, ‘If we don’t like this institution, we can confront it, and our confrontation is meaningful,’” Bond said.
Tasneem Siddiqui, a University of Southern California doctoral candidate, also explained yesterday that the modern-day Black Lives Matter movement is rooted in black radical traditions and is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of responding to Jim Crow laws’ segregation and denied suffrage, people respond to structural conditions, such as oppressive policing, gentrification and mass incarceration.
“This is not something new,” she said. “It’s something that’s continuous.”
Yoo said the presentation was a pleasant surprise, and she would consider attending similar events in the future.
“This event was so eye-opening,” she said. “It talked about very relevant issues, so I think this campaign is really great and I hope that people continue supporting it.”
Colin Byrd, a senior sociology major and social advocacy chairman for the Black Student Union, said he found the presentation interesting and “unfortunately necessary.” While he said he thinks race relations on this campus have improved over time, there is still “a lot of work to be done.”
“It was really good that a lot of people that may not necessarily have an intrinsic interest in the topic came, or in some cases, were required to come,” Byrd said. “I think it was a great learning experience.”
If students feel motivated to make a change, Bond said, all actions, such as changing one’s language to donating money or attending a rally, can contribute to the cause.
“Participation … doesn’t always have to be grand,” Bond said. “But in every action, there is power.”