Listening and Organizing on Campus

U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke on my campus at West Chester University yesterday, just next to my office building. Trump has capitalized on classism, racism, sexism, and other oppressions to build his campaign. Many people of color, women, and people perceived to be Muslim have been harassed at his campaign events, and some have been physically harmed.

Our campus learned of Trump’s visit only two days in advance, so we had little time to plan responses. Yet faculty, students, and staff organized beautifully.

Faculty, students, staff, and administrators currently in RC classes played important roles in the organizing. These individuals had been invited to be in RC classes this year because they’d already been taking important leadership in ending racism on campus.

A couple of students in the classes helped plan highly successful peaceful student protests. Hannah Ashley, an RC colleague, played a leading role in organizing faculty to support the student protests. She worked with other colleagues to plan a schedule of events that included outdoor morning classes on strategies for successful nonviolent protest followed by protests in the afternoon. She also crafted a great letter to our university president and took the lead in drafting a press release titled “We Choose Love,” which focused on our faculty taking a stand against Trump’s oppressive rhetoric. “We Choose Love” became the key organizing principle of the day and was chanted throughout the protests. Other chants included “Love Trumps hate,” and “No hate in our state.”

Given the violence directed at people of the global majority at other Trump rallies, we followed the lead of students of the global majority and organized to have white allies be on the front lines of the protest and escort students of the global majority to classes and other places on campus if they wanted.

I organized those in our RC classes to connect for mini-sessions during the day and think about how to use listening throughout the day’s events. Several of us held “listening stations” in our offices. We let people know that we were available to listen about racism or other issues related to the Trump visit. These stations were welcomed.

My office building was directly beside the rally and protests and was guarded by police and the secret service all day. To get in and out, faculty, staff, and students had to cross the lines of people waiting to get into the Trump rally and negotiate with police. By the time they got in the building, they needed to be listened to!

I listened to people of the global majority who’d been heckled as they tried to enter the building. I listened to the president of our staff union, who was organizing staff responses, and to a couple of our faculty union organizers. I also listened to several police officers and was able to later talk with a couple of them and encourage their thoughtful support of faculty, staff, and students who were trying to enter the building for work and classes.

Along with some other faculty, I chose to cancel my academic classes and encourage students to participate in protest activities or complete assignments from home so as not to have to pass through the Trump rally lines. My class had already been scheduled to read and discuss two RC articles written by my mom, Gwen Brown, who is a colleague and the International Liberation Reference Person for People Raised Poor. She writes about how those with political power use racism to try to divide poor people—a tactic used by Trump’s campaign—and offers RC perspective on what’s needed for the liberation of poor people and to end classism. I asked the students to write about Trump in relation to her articles.

I’m continuing to hear about people of the global majority and LGBTQ students who were heckled, spit on, pushed, and threatened as they simply tried to walk from one place to another on campus yesterday. I have been asked by my university president and his cabinet to co-facilitate an open forum in which students will be able to share feelings and thoughts and provide feedback to the administration on how it might handle future controversial campus events.

We have more work to do, but I’m pleased with everything our faculty, staff, and students managed yesterday. The protests were the largest held on our campus in twenty or more years. The combination of the protests and the listening and other activities was powerful. Those in our RC classes agree that the work we’ve done together over the past year laid important groundwork for what was possible.

Ellie Brown

International Liberation Reference Person for College and University Faculty

Wilmington, Delaware, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of college and university faculty

(Present Time 184, July 2016)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00