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Suffolk Students Engage in Activism

Illustration credit: Sylvan Huynh

Illustration credit: Sylvan Huynh

Student activism has recently come to the forefront of American collegiate culture. The phenomenon roots itself in issues which society as a whole is concerned with, but also play a prevalent role in young adult life. Examples of student-lead rallies include LGBTQ movements, the Black Lives Matter campaign and the upcoming election.

The past two years in the U.S. has been marked by growing student activism across the country. There were 160 demonstrations in the fall of 2014 alone, with many more having happened since. What started as protests on student governance and civil rights at the Florida State University and University of Missouri has become a series of movements characterized by Twitter hashtags and community rallies.

The rise of social media has caused many of the recent student activism events to start online, generally on the highly interactive Twitter platform. Florida State University was one of the first to utilize this trend, coining the #SlashThrasher as a call to action against Republican state politician John Thrasher taking over presidency of the college.

Later that year, Colgate University in New York rose up against racism on campus, using the #CanYouHearUsNow slogan to gather students and faculty to the cause. The University of Chicago followed soon after with the #LiabilityoftheMind campaign to end institutional intolerance.

What started on a single campus as a showing of student power has led to revolutions within and among numerous universities. Inequality, sexism, sexual harassment and the governing of colleges are often rallying points for the start of activism. Students mostly move from the general issues to specific demands, proving they are capable of not only protest, but instigating real change as well.

Danisha Dumornay is a senior at Suffolk University and has been involved in social activism since her arrival. As a Diversity Services Peer Educator, she employs trainings and workshops to promote social justice and inclusion on campus.

“In this position I am able to garner student feedback on various campus issues pertaining to multicultural affairs as well as assist students and faculty in challenging individual and societal ideas of identity and privilege,” Dumornay said.

Dumornay first came to the role of an activist after her family was hit financially in 2006, forcing them out of the comfort and security of their previous home. Dumornay credits various social workers and her mother for leading her to a life dedicated toward educating and changing society.

Recently, Dumornay and hundreds of other students put their past experience and current vigor to work on campus during the feud between the Suffolk presidency and Board of Trustees. An article published in the Boston Globe on Jan. 29 first noted tensions concerning President Margaret McKenna and the Board of Trustees, and students were quick to notice.

The lack of transparency led to immediate campus organization of various student-run clubs. Posters went up in every building featuring #SUStandsWithMcKenna, aligning members of the Suffolk community with their fifth president in five years. The institution’s instability as well as the Board exerting their power over the university yet again would lead to Suffolk’s most impressive show of Student activism in the college’s history.

Students protesting outside the C. Walsh Theatre.

Students protesting outside the C. Walsh Theatre.

A closed Faculty Senate meeting in the C. Walsh Theatre was forced to listen to chanting and yelling from students protesting the change in leadership just outside the doors. Soon after, the Student Government Association determined Chairman Andrew Meyer to be a main player in the Board’s recent decisions and held an almost unanimous vote of no confidence in the board member.

The scope of the protest continued to narrow as students delivered their grievances to the Board of Trustees. These included: lack of transparency between management of the university and faculty and students, the relationship with Regan Communications who’s Vice President sat on the Board and the outdated bylaws running the college.

President McKenna had also expressed interest in ending the partnership with Regan during her term. The Board of Trustees advised McKenna against such a decision, however, she made it clear the firm needed to be reviewed.

Former students took notice of the growing tensions as well, forming the Alumni for the Integrity of Suffolk University. The organization held press conferences in which they mirrored the demands of the students and their elected government.

“I think the most powerful thing about the movement is that it has not been one student group to instigate change or one student or organization who can take full credit for the movement.” Dumornay proudly stated. “Suffolk students found it in their power to come together as members of the Suffolk community to initiate change, regardless of other affiliations they may hold.”

The rallies, protests, hashtags and overall activism led to major campus alterations. In an email sent on Feb. 5, the Board of Trustees and President McKenna forged a resolution. It stated Chairman Meyer would not seek reelection at the end of the term and President McKenna would keep her position until a new president can be elected by the end of the 2017 school year. Also, the Board’s bylaws would be updated by the end of May 2016 to support greater transparency and student involvement.

Four days later on Feb. 9, the last of the demands made by the Student Government Association was met as the relationship with Regan Communications was dissolved. After 27 years of receiving over $200,000 paychecks annually and holding a strong position on the Board of Trustees, the noted public relations firm released their grip on Suffolk University.

Dumornay has ideas for how Suffolk can continue to change in favor of the students. “There are universities throughout the nation, such as UMass and Cornell University, that have adopted the use of Student Trustees,” Dumornay mentions. “Student trustees are welcomed by the university’s Board of Trustees to become a part of the board; the opportunity allows students to work closely with university leadership and administration so that they can have a voice in shaping the university’s future.”

Suffolk students were able to affect change on campus.

Suffolk students were able to affect change on campus.

Of course, the reevaluation of Suffolk’s leadership must continue in order for changes to be made and promises kept. To ensure this end, students Tiffany Martinez, Tamara Tavares and Morgan Williams created the #WeAreSuffolk SU Student Activism Facebook page. Since its creation during the initial campaign, the page has gathered 1,170 members comprised of alumni, current students and faculty.

The social media group is utilized for bringing together Suffolk students interested in the politics of the university. Events, articles and press releases are shared to gather students around a single cause, promoting physical activism beyond mere discussion.

“Without our activism we may not have President McKenna remaining president for the next few months. Without our activism we may not see Meyer’s end come so near. Without our activism, we may not realize how united Suffolk is” exclaimed co-creator Tiffany Martinez. “What we succeeded in a week is what many have been trying to succeed for years when it comes to the dynamic of the Board of Trustees. Let us take a minute and appreciate all the effort we put into this movement.”

There are more steps that can be taken to continue student activism at Suffolk. “Ask the tough questions and the necessary question; ‘is what is happening a positive reflection of our university’s mission statement? Do these policies serve as a direct reproduction of our university’s mission statement?’” Dumornay emphasizes. “If the answer is no, then initiate!”

Education is key to being a valuable member of a university’s community. The Student Government Association, Student Leadership and Involvement Office and Diversity Services can be excellent resources for not only learning about the issues, but assisting in change as well.

“Your bold leap into activism could be just the thing that this university needs to create a positive future.” Dumornay concludes. “If you do not know if you have the right words or if you can do it on your own, trust in the fact that someone in this Suffolk community is willing to act in solidarity with you. We are all working towards the same goals.”

 

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