By Sierra Lammi – [email protected]
Six seconds was all it took to send shockwaves through the CSB/SJU community.
On Sunday evening, a video was posted online featuring several SJU students on the Link chanting “build that wall.”
The video has made many students uncomfortable and some students have demanded that administration take action. Some students expressed their concerns by holding a protest at both the Gorecki and Sexton bus stops Tuesday afternoon to create a conversation about the video. Concerns have also been expressed by students at forums throughout the week including the Presidents’ Forum and the “Sticks and Stones: The Cultural Politics of Free Speech, Hate Speech and Silence” forum.
The video that sparked conversation throughout the school was posted online by CSB sophomore Lucy Dornbach, who was riding the Link when the chant took place.
“I wasn’t surprised that a chant had started on the bus on a Saturday night. That’s not new, it’s been happening for a long time,” Dornbach said. “Everyone knows that this happens but nothing is being done to make sure it doesn’t happen again next weekend.”
Dornbach describes an uncomfortable feeling on the bus among some of the students who were there when the incident occurred. The Johnnies who started the chant have not been identified.
“I was very frustrated that students would have the audacity to say something so harmful and disrespectful on the Link of all places,” Dornbach said.
The administration at CSB/SJU has heard the dissent about the video among students, and both Vice Presidents of Development Mary Geller and Fr. Doug Mullin sent emails to students expressing concern about the incident in addition to launching an investigation.
An open presidents’ forum was held Monday night to discuss the video. Both President Hinton and Hemesath were in attendance and weighed in regarding the issue that the community is facing.
“I want students to know that we take seriously their concerns about feeling silenced, for any reason, and that I view this as an educational, not a political issue,” President Hinton said via email. “If anyone on our campus feels that they don’t have the right to speak, that’s a problem that we have to address.”
Students and administration are fighting to maintain the sense of community promised at CSB/SJU.
“Ideally community is like family,” President Hemesath said via email. “There will be those you agree with and are especially close to and there will be those you may not agree with but still love because they are family.”
Students organized protests that took place Tuesday afternoon on both campuses. Organizers said the protests were attempts to maintain a strong community and foster conversation between students of all opinions and beliefs.
Sophomores Sydd Robinson and Sandra Marceleno share what the phrase “build that wall” means to them in the hope of providing understanding of why they feel this video is such a large issue.
“It feels dehumanizing because people say it’s not for citizens it’s for illegal immigrants,” Marceleno said. “My parents are undocumented, so it feels like people are saying my parents don’t belong here.”
“The idea of build the wall means keep people out,” Robinson said. “I am for security and background checks, but I don’t want to push away refugees who are running from dangerous things.”
However, it seems that the greatest source of anger about the video came from where the chant took place, not only what was said. Since the incident occurred on the Link, students who were uncomfortable with the chant were unable to leave the situation.
“I am not so mad that they said this as much as I am about where they said it,” Marceleno said.
Organizers of the protests submitted demands to the administration earlier in the day. They hope both the protests and the demands will spark the administration to take actions to prevent similar issues from occurring in the future. SJU sophomore Muqkadeen Poole was one of many students who collectively organized this protest.
“The demands were based off of our mission to create dialogue and conversation between people of all backgrounds to create a community,” Poole said.
Organizers don’t expect administration to meet every demand, but many students hope that a conversation will take place in response to them. A conversation about why people felt uncomfortable with what was said in the video and how that can be prevented in the future.
Throughout the protest, organizers welcomed anyone to speak and share their opinions without fear of discrimination. Students and staff of multiple viewpoints took the opportunity to share opinions, beliefs, stories and discuss what is going on at CSB/SJU.
“All we seek is to be one community and to be better,” Poole said. “We have those Benedictine values, and if we set that precedent we must aspire towards that all the time.”
Non-traditional first-year Daniel Davitt served in the U.S. Air Force before coming to school through the GI Bill and says he holds more conservative beliefs. He also took part in the conversation during the protest.
“I do think that both sides were represented, even if there were times it leaned a little towards one side,” Davitt said.
One goal of the protest was to allow students of all viewpoints to be comfortable sharing their beliefs, and Davitt, among others was able to explain and share his.
“I went into the military, where many people are conservative, and being around those people and having those experiences have really helped shape my beliefs. However, nobody had ever asked me why I had those beliefs. They just assumed I was wrong,” Davitt said.
From all sides of the political spectrum there is a call not only for conversation to happen, but more importantly for opposing sides to listen to one another.
“What people don’t realize is that conservatives and liberals are actually saying similar things a lot of the time. We just have to listen,” Davitt said.
In the upcoming weeks the CSB/SJU campuses will face the aftermath of Saturday night’s chant.
“I would hope [the protest] will make us stronger as we learn how to listen and understand each other better,” President Hemesath said.
“I hope that [the protest] continues to amplify the existing dialogue about inclusion and that it expands the circle of people who are willing and committed to doing this work,” President Hinton said.
Most recently, the Office of the Presidents released a statement after the protest responding to the incident on the Link.
The letter makes it clear that both Presidents Hinton and Hemesath are “disappointed and saddened” by the chant that took place. However, the administration and the presidents remain optimistic for the future.
“It is our hope and belief that CSB and SJU can offer a model for civil discourse and be a place where we can freely exchange ideas and challenge each other in ways that make us all more open to and understanding of each other,” Hinton and Hemesath
Feature photo credit: SAMUEL P. BUTTERFASS • [email protected]