By Danny Priest
As students and faculty lined Alden Street, echoes of “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace,” “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” and more rang out from the group marching up the road.
The group, approximately 50 students, wore all black and held up signs of “Black Lives Matter,” “Love Thy Neighbor,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and more. They shared their passion with everyone who could hear, expressing their desire for equal treatment of Black students on campus that has been lacking for decades.
It has been close to 50 years since Springfield College has seen a protest that followed demands from student leaders on campus.
In May of 1969, Black students took over the Administration building on campus after President Wilbur E. Locklin denied their demands to improve the quality of experience on campus for Black students.
That protest was followed by another on March 10, 1970. Students occupied Massasoit Hall as a form of protest over the refusal to accept additional services for Blacks on campus.
In the aftermath, 49 students were arrested and charged with civil contempt; 47 of them were forced to serve jail time.
Many of those students left Springfield College for good, their voices never having been acknowledged or recognized.
This time around, on the 15th of October in the year 2020, members of administration walked with the students in show of support at this protest.
President Mary-Beth Cooper, Vice President of Inclusion and Community Engagement Calvin Hill and more joined the students in their March for Action.
The group went up Alden Street, down Wilbraham Ave. towards International Hall, and looped back into the center of campus where they settled on the green to hear from Cooper, Hill, and protest organizers Dereck Webb and Luther Wade.
“We go through feeling very unheard, unseen, no one fighting for us, any of that. We’re on our own…so, to be here and establish our own leadership as Black men and then get that support from a whole community of white people, how could you not love that and support that? It’s what we came here to do. It was amazing, once in a lifetime feeling,” Wade said.
For the duration of the march, by-standers shouted in support, cars driving by showered the group with honks and energy remained high for everyone involved.
“Today is an important day for this Community and I am proud to be a part of it,” President Cooper told the crowd gathered on the green.
“It was intentional that I walked with our students up Alden St. on this march. I stand with them and it was an honor to walk alongside them. This is a time for our community to listen, learn and act. We have much to learn from our Black and brown students (about) how we have not done everything we can to be as inclusive and welcoming as we could be.”
The protest, officially titled the “March for action on Alden” was formally organized by four diversity groups on campus. Men of Excellence (MOE), Women of Power, Student Society for Bridging Diversity (SSBD), and the Black Student Union (BSU).
The aforementioned Webb and Wade were the student leaders of the event. The main goal of the event in itself was to support anti-racist efforts on campus, but they did so much more than just that.
It was a sign of work that has been done so far, but also a reminder that there is still much more to do in the future.
Back in September, the diversity groups on campus submitted a list of six demands to President Cooper and her team outlining ways to improve the campus climate for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students.
The demands were as follows: a mandatory, one-credit Anti-Black racism course; to develop an explicit no tolerance policy around hate speech; the hiring of a Black counselor in the counseling center; more funding for the Office of Multicultural Affairs; a method to honor protestors of the later 1960s and 1970s; and lastly, a high-profile speaker for SEAT at the Table.
Each of these demands were either fulfilled, or legitimate steps to satisfy them have been made. That type of response from administration is what made Thursday’s march more of a legitimate event that those on campus could get behind.
“I think that it is a big thing, it’s a good sign, it’s a good start…but we know that this isn’t the end all, be all,” said Webb, who is a senior Physical Education major and the Vice President of the Men of Excellence club..
“They finally listened to our voices, they finally understood our stories and know what we’re going through and that to me is the biggest thing that came out of this. They know what we’re going through, and they’re striving for change on campus,” he added.
“We’re not out here with signs, we’re not giving you speeches, we’re not in all these meetings, we’re not conversing as clubs and reaching out to other club members and doing all this other stuff for the change not to be there, which is what the case was before,” said Wade, who is a junior Physical Education major and the CEO of Men of Excellence.
“I think that’s the best part of today. These people do want to instill longevity with these initiatives and that’s the best part to take away from today. We did this today, but it doesn’t end today, it’s going to carry on through this institution’s history,” Wade added.
The initial six demands were the first step in a process of change that won’t happen overnight. Institutional change is a process that takes years and commitment from everyone on campus.
“This is an opportunity for campus community members to come together and create change. Change is going to occur when all of us agree that this is an issue and this is a problem,” Hill said following the event.
“Today was an opportunity for us to have that conversation and to have people from various walks of life across campus come together and say I’m ready for change. Now that people are saying that they’re ready for change and they’re stepping up, we can see the elimination of systemic racism on campus,” Hill said.
In their speeches, everyone made reference to the fact that in the past, change on campus has been ignored.
“Four years ago, we didn’t have the same unity on our campus when Elijah Ryan marched alone and held a sign that said, ‘Springfield College doesn’t care about Black people,’” Webb told the audience.
Thursday perhaps showed that now, the campus is ready for change. Be it through the response from administration or the show of support for the march itself, the time for action has arrived.
“It’s days like these where you’ve been waiting for three years, the whole time you’ve been here, for this support to happen. The fact that it came together and happened like that, it’s crazy because you come here and our experience is obviously very different from anyone else’s experience,” Wade said.
Going forward, there are steps both the administration at the school and students on campus can take.
“In terms of hiring practices and cultural changes and sustainability, it’s one thing to move money to the Office of Minority Affairs. Do we do it every year? What do the budgets look like? How do we get to a place that in 50 years — 50 years ago they had a march on this campus and here we are today — my goal is that there’s not needs for marches like this moving forward. We don’t come back together in 10-years and say none of those changes were sustainable,” Cooper said of what needs to happen next.
“We can get there, we can make this community better, and it will be these people here and all the faculty, staff and alumni that help us do it. I’m really optimistic and I think that it comes from a place that people care about this community and people want us to be better. I think these students, even with their tension, still love this place and want us to be better. We owe that to them,” she said.
“We’re going to be moving forward in terms of talking about issues that Dr. Cooper spoke about and that she and I have been speaking on for years,” Hill said. “They’re around trainings for our students, our faculty, our staff, around microaggressions, around bias, around our hiring practices — who we’re bringing in — because as I’ve said for years since I’ve gotten here, we’re not going back to Mayberry.
“This is a new reality for our students that are coming from homogeneous communities. We’re coming together and this is what the world looks like. We need to prepare ourselves for a changing face that’s going to look different than Springfield College once we leave here.”
Springfield College is regarded for its commitment to Humanics, and according to Wade and Webb, that simple philosophy or selflessness and treating others right is exactly what the campus needs now.
“Everyone holds doors, everyone says hi, I believe that was a standard here at once, but as of now that’s not standard,” Wade said. “I think if we can get back to that way of getting to know our neighbor, and getting to know the people that we walk by as people, and not just someone that we see on the way to class, then we can understand ‘okay, I don’t know everything about you, I don’t know who you are exactly, but I appreciate that you’re here and I care that you’re here.
“Because my experience very well can affect your experience, so let’s make sure we’re affecting each other in the right way.’ Then we can uplift the college in that same semi-tone. I think it starts with the students baring down and just coming to each other and understanding that we’re different. We’re very, very, very different, but I still love and accept you because you’re different.”
“The system needs to be changed, but for the students, the faculty, the administration, it’s just having that conversation when we’re not around,” Webb said. “The whole time that we’ve been asking for help, or can we do this, can we do that, this is what we want, the response is – ‘oh first off, we need to hear your stories,
“We’re tired of telling our stories, you should know our stories by now. There’s 400 plus years of our stories. I think it’s just the character. Me seeing you and me not hating you because of the color of your skin. Simply holding the doors, that doesn’t happen on this campus for us. It’s those small things, that character building, just that daily routine of making sure that everyone is included, it’s an integrated campus, that to me is the biggest thing.”
The March for Action on Alden will stand as a historic event at Springfield College. However, for those involved in the planning and execution of the event, the hope is the day will be remembered as the turning point for when real action began to take place.
Photo: Jack Margaros/The Student