September 28, 2020

‘Stop killing us’: Black students tell their story

The summer of 2020 has been filled with protests for racial justice. Two Webster students speak about their time on campus and what it means to be Black in the time of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The killing of 46-year-old Black man, George Floyd, angered Americans across the country. A recurring theme channeled an ongoing movement to enter the spotlight once more. The theme being, white man kills an unarmed Black citizen, and with the movement being in retrospect, Stop Killing Us.

The list of African American ‘murdered’ by the very people given the responsibility to “protect and serve” is ever-growing. The list also included unarmed civilians such as Eric Gardner sparking the “I Can’t Breathe” movement. Tamir Rice, also included in this list, was killed at 14-years-old while playing with a toy gun. Along with Rice, Gardner, Taylor and Floyd, 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. brought about the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” movement after being fatally shot by Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson. Once again the theme being please Stop Killing Us.”

Additionally, there are those Black Americans who were murdered simply by the hands of a white man. This includes Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed after Greg and Travis McMichael saw him running in their neighborhood and suspected him of home break-ins
and robbery. Then there is 17-year-old unarmed Black male, Trayvon Martin. Martin was killed by a neighborhood watch, George Zimmerman. The killing of Martin sparked the message once more, “Stop Killing Us” with a more thorough reason; “Black Lives Matter.”

Since then and especially this summer, Black Lives Matter has become a controversial saying. The reason, politically, is due to the counter-argument All Lives Matter. Along with that counter to the Black Lives Matter movement, the 2020 racial injustice war has also introduced us to Blue Lives Matter which stands up for the police forces of this nation.

Now African American students at Webster face another dilemma. Students of color have to come back to a campus which prides itself on being diverse, only to find themselves surrounded by their peers in the classroom who do not look like them.

Travis Haughton, a senior film major and director of upcoming feature film, “Black Card,” recalls his experience from the past four years of attending what he considers a Predominantly White Institution(PWI).

“Freshman year, I noticed that a lot of the photographers were just using my face to put on magazines and other advertising to make the campus look good and diverse,” Haughton said. “In reality, it’s not that diverse so I just feel used.”

According to Haughton, the Introduction to Africana class and their class trip to Ghana really opened his eyes to the lack of diversity on Webster’s campus. Haughton said Ghana taught him and his classmates the effects of being Black.

Senior audio production major, Hollie Woods, also recalls coming to campus as a freshman. According to Woods, she was expecting a diverse campus. Instead, she found herself in a position where she was always the Black girl in the classroom.

“It was really just not a lot of representation,” Woods said. “In my department, in the classrooms, it wasn’t really diverse. I do have one class this semester where there is another African American student, but in all my other classes I am the only one. It’s just not what you would expect.”

Author Kaelin Triggs poses for a portrait. Photo by Charlotte Renner.

Haughton and Woods both spoke on how the racial barriers affect them mentally throughout their time at Webster. This includes the struggles faced on campus and off-campus due to the color of their skin. The struggle ranges from mental blocks in the classroom, to fears of being pulled over in the middle of the night, to even having nightmares about being shot.

Woods mentioned facing internal pressure to speak up and engage in class while being the only Black female. She feels as though there is a lot of pressure to make sure she performs well as a student due to this internal dialogue. Woods, along with Haughton also mentions the challenges faced off campus especially going to predominantly white parts of town. Haughton directed a short feature titled ‘Black in America’ focusing on the constant fears Black Americans have to go through on a daily basis. One subject Haughton’s ‘Black in America’ brings up is how the media portrays people of color and how the content can traumatize African Americans.

“Every time I look at social media or even the news in general, it just gets to my head to the point where I have dreams about it,” Haughton said. “I started having dreams and nightmares about being shot by a white police officer.”

Haughton said during the racial injustice war that America has been battling this year, he had to take a break from social media and the news. Woods said she didn’t watch any videos of the killings.

Woods also took this time to truly learn her worth. According to Woods, she reached a very low place when everything started happening. Her heart was truly broken but she had to remind herself the way people see her does not define who she is. Woods said she would like more opportunities to talk about the racial injustice going on with her peers who aren’t Black.

“It’s easy to feel alone when I am the only [Black] one here,” Woods said. “I don’t even know if they understand. Just to hear their heart on it would let me know I’m not alone.”

According to Haughton, there are white people who are really trying to support. However, he said there are white people who are only supporting so everyone can stop talking about it. Woods said white people should be just as angry because we are all human. She said people should stop and think about what is going on and realize how traumatizing it is from a Black person’s point of view. According to Woods, she wants people to stop turning a blind eye to what is happening.

At the end of the day, according to Haughton, white people are privileged. Haughton believes there should be a class at Webster to simply talk about race and the issues going on since Webster is a school of diversity and inclusion. Haughton and Woods both want Webster to do more to promote Black lives than just putting up a banner claiming they support Black lives. They want to see more diversity in the faculty and staff, more talk of inclusion in the classrooms and more resources for the Black students on campus along with people students can talk to when facing the mental troubles of being Black.

“All lives cannot matter unless Black lives matter,” Haughton said. “If you do not support Black lives, drop out.”

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