Over 1,000 members of the Claremont community, including students, faculty, staff, and city residents, participated in the Black Out Student March on Thursday, Nov. 12. The event was a part of a national day of action, #MillionStudentMarch, in which hundreds of colleges organized “to stand in solidarity with the students in Mizzou [University of Missouri], Yale, South Africa, and every other institution across the world where BLACK people are marginalized and threatened,” according to the Facebook event page. Participants were asked to dress in black and gather in front of Honnold-Mudd Library at 1 p.m.
The march was organized by Sinclair Blue SC ’19, Emily Carpenter PO ’17, Dominique Curtis PO ’17, and Cynthia Irobunda SC ’18 within a day of the protest held for more institutional support of students of color at Claremont McKenna College on Wednesday.
“We were like, ‘go, do it. It’s 3 a.m., only 10 people might come tomorrow, but do it,” Blue said.
Though they hadn’t planned on organizing an event to take place the next day, the Black students who were decompressing at the Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA) House on Wednesday night saw that schools such as Columbia University, University of California-Los Angeles, and University of Southern California were organizing marches in solidarity with Mizzou.
“We couldn’t stop the flow. [After] what happened yesterday, people were scared to keep going, I thought, we couldn’t stop there,” Irobunda said. “We had to have this thing today, for us to keep the momentum going.”
Around 3 a.m., the organizers began to send out invites, unsure about how many people would attend. The next day, hundreds of students gathered in front of Honnold-Mudd.
Carpenter said that she was both surprised and overwhelmed by the amount of students who attended.
“To me, it’s real,” Carpenter said. “If we can show up for each other, it’s more than just this moment.”
At the beginning of the march, the organizers spoke about Claremont’s connection to greater issues of violence throughout the country and how they plan to collectively mobilize going forward.
“Today we choose to take an active role, and refuse to let the systemic violence of our institutions continue,” Blue said. “We demand that the universities are held accountable. Today we refuse to be markers of diversity. We refuse to be silent.”
Both organizers and student speakers talked about the challenges of being a student of color on these campuses.
“There was a hashtag #ShushPOC and I was in my room in my bed, crying, crying for the girl in her classroom who was wrestled to the floor, crying for my people back in Brooklyn who are being shot, crying for people in Chicago, just feeling a lot and feeling very isolated here and feeling invisible here,” Carpenter said. “And having people who are allies stand there and say nothing. And isolated in my room I saw this hashtag, #ShushPOC, and I said, ‘hell no.'”
Black students and students of color led the march north on Dartmouth Avenue and through the campuses of Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, Scripps College, CMC, and Pomona College; allies were asked to follow behind.
Other members of the Claremont community also participated in the march. Ric Townes, Associate Dean of Students at Pomona, said that he felt that it was necessary to support students and show solidarity.
“As a man of color who has been a college administrator for more than three decades, I’ve been dealing with these issues for a very long time,” Townes wrote in an email to TSL. “I felt I needed to be there to support our students from across the colleges. It’s been painful listening to the stories of students and I wanted to be there to support them and to show my solidarity with their struggles.”
“I can say that today was one of the most powerful, important days in my almost 12 years at Pomona,” Townes added. “To be honest with you, it was a very emotional experience for me and I was so proud of the students.”
Scripps history professor Rita Roberts also came to the march, which she said was an important show of solidarity not only for the students at Mizzou, but for the greater movement that has begun.
“We’re here in solidarity with African American students across the country demanding that the various institutions that accept them and are so willing to talk about how diverse they are now, using the term very loosely, really address the issues of structural racism in their institutions,” Roberts said.
While the recent protests have gained particular momentum in the public arena, Paul Carter PO ’16 said that the efforts to create change for students of color and other marginalized communities go far beyond the march.
“We make statements. We send letters. We try to meet with staff and administrators and faculty, and we don’t see effective change, so this is when organizers come together and this is when we come to support those people. That’s when we show our solidarity, not as black folk or just people of color, but as allies,” Carter said in an interview with TSL. “To show that even if those other forms of written statements or meetings aren’t going to leap to change, that we’re not going to be complacent with that and we’re going to show them [the administration] that we have a spirit that we need to be heard and addressed in order to feel like we belong here at these schools.”
After the march, participants gathered outside Honnold-Mudd to debrief and provide a space for students of color to share their experiences. In addition to students, community members including Pitzer Sociology professor José Calderón and Jeanette Ellis-Royston, president of the NAACP Pomona Valley Branch, also spoke about how students could continue and have, in the past, broken what former CMC Dean of Students Mary Spellman, who resigned Wednesday, Nov. 11, infamously labeled “the mold.”
Irobunda said that in the wake of this week’s protests and demonstrations, it is time for students of color to reflect and rest, and continue to move forward with their demands.
“After something so big and something so draining, it’s a time for us to heal and come together as a community and love and respect each other in our spaces and positions in this space,” Irobunda said. “Later on, we will continue doing more movements and actions and demonstrations.”
Lauren Ison and Diane Lee contributed reporting.