Students protest racial injustice on campus


Sophie Hume

Jai Carrero and Sean King directed a rally and march from Hamlin Circle to Elliott Tower in support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Senior Jai Carrero raised her megaphone to her masked face screaming, “Say her name!” as she listened for the crowd behind her to respond with “Breonna Taylor.” She had already been marching and chanting for an hour, and she knew the crowd needed her to lead them in their protest across campus. She looked over at fifth year Sean King, who was helping her lead the chants, and together they made their voices heard. 

Chants of “Black lives matter” echoed across campus as nearly a hundred students, staff and faculty members marched for justice on Saturday, Sept. 12. Armed with handmade signs and masks, the protesters were led by Black Lives Matter — Oakland University (BLM OU) and the Association of Black Students (ABS). Starting at Hamlin Circle, the crowd marched and ended in the middle of campus at Elliott Tower. 

“This protest is our livelihood,” said Carrero, leader of BLM OU. “If we don’t fight for ourselves, who is gonna fight for us? It’s evident that in the eyes of others, we don’t matter, and so we have to stand up for ourselves and say that we do.” 

Closing off welcome week, the protest was an opportunity for students to bring attention to the ongoing conversation about police brutality. President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz marched alongside students in solidarity with their mission. 

“I’m thrilled to see our students are active in important matters that are critical to them and their community,” she said. “I think that we clearly know there is systemic racism in our society, and there are matters like social justice that are really important. I’m delighted that our students can speak up and do it in a safe and effective manner … I’m thrilled to be a participant, and I’m very, very proud of Oakland University students.” 

Vice President for Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer Glenn McIntosh shared Pescovitz’s pride in OU students, and believed this march was important in order to create an inclusive and welcoming community. 

“Student success and diversity go hand in hand, in that we’re trying to create an environment where all people can come here and be successful, whether it be a faculty member, a staff member and certainly our students,” he said. “And so, when students collaborate on an initiative like this, it’s very important because they realize the environment and campus climate is pivotal to their success.”

Black Lives Matter protests have occurred  across the world since the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others at the hands of the police. While some have taken place close to home, this protest is one of the first at OU. 

“I feel like it’s very appropriate [to have this protest] because for so long we haven’t done this,” Carrero said. “For so long we haven’t drawn attention to something that’s been in our faces this whole time, and so the fact that [the university] allowed us to go ahead and do this just lets me know we are moving in the right direction.”

After the march, the crowd gathered around Elliott Tower to listen to Black voices from the campus community. Carrero and King, who is the president of the Association of Black Students, spoke about what this movement meant to them, as well as Omar Brown-El, senior director of the Center for Multicultural Initiatives. Brown-El reminded students that “today’s message is we are powerful and not powerless.” 

King recognized that all minority groups need support and thanked everyone for their support of Black lives during this moment.

“A lot of what 2020 has been, it’s tough,” King said. “We’ve lost a lot of good people, too many to count, but still nonetheless, we prevailed — we’re still here, we’re still breathing, we’re still fighting, and we’re not going to stop. It’s never going to stop, and it comes on us to be leaders and be better.”

Brown-El called upon the crowd to take a moment of silence for those who have lost their lives. OU community members bowed their heads in respect and remembrance, and took a moment to reflect. Despite hoarse voices from chanting and tired legs from marching, the crowd stayed to honor each other and the movement they came to support. 

After several minutes of silence, Brown-El spoke about his experience fighting against systemic racism when he was an OU student, and what it meant to him to see that legacy be continued. 

“It was almost 25 years ago when I stood here, almost in this same spot, as an Oakland University undergraduate student for justice and for peace as the president of the Association of Black Students,” he said. “At the same time, the things that are happening today were occurring then. I was experiencing, as a young man, injustice … There are those who want to create disharmony, and we recognize that, but our power is stronger, it has always been stronger. Love is always the winner, and we stand here today united for that fact.” 

Brown-El wanted to leave students with the reminder that it is their time to fight for what’s right, and to keep goals of love, peace and justice at the forefront of their activism.

“We will always struggle, and we will always persist for peace,” Brown-El said. “We will always struggle, and we will always persist for justice in any form. We recognize that all of us have an opportunity for success when we work together, when we’re unified and when we recognize we are stronger together than we are divided.”