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Activist Rosa Clemente addresses privilege and racial justice at Springfield College

Vin Gallo

Deputy Sports Editor

Photo courtesy of Felicia Lundquist 

To implement change, people need to be outspoken. By doing this, they can inspire their attentive peers to take a stand and preach to their communities. Change is not executed all at once, but speaking out during each of those daily “teachable moments” can go a long way in cleansing any kind of societal ignorance.

Last Thursday, Springfield College welcomed former Green Party vice presidential candidate, scholar, innovative journalist and Black Lives Matter activist Rosa Clemente to campus. Clemente, a speaker at an open forum of student and faculty in the Dodge Conference room, addressed the topics of power, privilege, and the state of racial justice and activism among college campuses and communities.

The event drew an audience of all ages with attendees, according to Clemente, as young as 15. This pleased her, as the issues discussed would be addressed to a larger range of ages.

Clemente, who is currently attending UMass Amherst for a doctorate, was born in the South Bronx. She grew up proud of her Puerto Rican heritage and Afro-Latinx identity.

However, when she attended college, she began to become exposed more frequently to systemic racism and white supremacy. Clemente addressed the result of such injustice. “We are often told that the reason we fail, is because we are not smart enough,” she said.

Professors would ask Clemente exclusively about poverty and food stamps. However, Clemente had grown up in a middle class society. Clemente felt that she was looked at as “the other.”

Even worse, she did not feel as though she was educated about civil rights during high school, and did not feel knowledgeable about the civil rights movement. Clemente began to “hate who she was.” After becoming depressed over these societal issues, Clemente vowed to take a stand against social injustices.

Clemente opened the forum by stating that truth must fight power, that the oppressed must take a stand against the system of white supremacy. Clemente said that white supremacy is not a result of the white population itself, but instead the social system that favors it. Such a system shuts down the “people power.” Clemente explained that anyone oppressed must “resist and exist.”

Clemente described how minorities are cheated by the government. She explained that the government uses those who are oppressed for their votes – promising change, but failing to come through. Clemente is angered by the current situation, where America and its inner cities are now three generations deep in the war on drugs. Minorities in the inner city are given lengthy sentences on charges of marijuana, regardless of the amount found, and at the same time, marijuana is being sold legally in Colorado. According to Clemente, recreational drug use is the norm in Hollywood and little to no punishment is handed out, while at the same time, in the same county, SWAT teams are called to invade homes in Compton.

Clemente also expressed her disappointment in the policies of the Obama administration. “How under a black president,” Clemente asked. “do we get to Black Lives Matter?” Clemente explained that the Black Lives Matter movement began following the death of Trayvon Martin. Since then, the tension among citizens and law enforcement has intensified. When Clemente arrived at Ferguson to join the protest for Michael Brown, she described a scenario where “you couldn’t stand in one place for more than two seconds” before being confronted by law enforcement.

Clemente also discussed the management of inner city public schools. Sixty-seven public schools in Chicago closed in just a year. At the same time the government has contributed $6 billion to war efforts, rather than spending on American education.

In addition to education, Clemente also touched on the issue of deportation. According to Clemente, deportation statistics have risen under the Obama administration. Residents of Flint, Michigan are forced to drink water contaminated with lead, in fear of deportation if they were to receive clean water from the state.

Clemente came to campus last week to voice her concern and opinion on the social justice issues of today, that are seemingly worsening as America finds itself well into the 2010s. She thoroughly addressed the country’s unrest. According to Clemente, the least the citizens of the US can do is to shine during “teachable moments” each day, when ignorance in society shows. This can go a long way when holding people accountable socially, during a time when America is in desperate need of unity and justice.

On Saturday, Clemente returned to Springfield to speak at the campus conference that was entitled, “The Price of Inequality.” She opened the conference by addressing the issues of education, and different forms of oppression against minorities. “We come from communities where we’ve always been studied on, studied about, and then all of this is used against us,” Clemente said. “The shame of having gone to bad schools or the shame of poverty – this stuff is so systemic.”

 As Clemente had referred to the previous Thursday, she mentioned that a large amount of public schools have been closing. According to Clemente, the current construction of nationwide communities has become “a school-to-prison pipeline” and “a sexual abuse pipeline that affects mostly women.” In schools, the suspension rate of black and Latino students is alarmingly high, and the system’s first question always seems to be “What did these students do wrong?” Clemente expressed her displeasure for the lack of educational support for black and Latino students in their academics, and believes that standardized testing paints a stigma against the students.

 “We live in a country where black lives, brown lives, poor lives, often don’t seem to matter,” she said. “The sheer audacity for students of color to not only get through kindergarten to twelfth, but to get through any form of education is [met by] resistance.”

Following Clemente’s presentation, a series of panels featuring Springfield College professors and students, broke down the topics discussed by Clemente. It also featured students and educators from Bay Path, AIC, WNEV, and Harvard Law School. This conference delved into the difficult questions surrounding the origins of the Black Lives Matter movement and racial oppression’s impact on the higher education system.

The panels arrived at several different points in which students can take away as valuable knowledge. When teaching others about stereotypes or any form of harmful language, one needs to know how to effectively communicate both the issue and solution to their peers. It is all efforts to unlearn and abandon stereotypes that all of us have learned at a young age through society and media.

The fight for social justice must be approached with an open mind. There cannot be resistance to listen to people who are victimized by systemic oppression. Rather than countering the call for awareness, society must take the time to discuss and work to solve these issues.

The panels also suggested how healthy it would be for collegiate students around Springfield to interact and lend service to the community in contrast to staying on campus, and writing Springfield off as a “bad area.”

Most importantly, the conference reflected on how college students can take initiative to make a difference in the fight for social equality.


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