A Show of Support

Students, faculty, staff rally against racism on Santa Clara University’s campus.

A Show of Support

An estimated 300 people donning masks and signs marched across campus on September 9 in peaceful protest of recent racist incidents involving members of the Santa Clara community and demanded concrete, immediate action to address long-standing issues of racism on campus. The march, which started on Palm Drive in front of the Schott Admissions building and ended with a rally in front of the Jesuit residence on Franklin Street, coincided with Scholar Strike, a national movement to protest racism in higher education and law enforcement.

Michelle Burnham, professor of English, says the protest was a collaborative effort organized by members of the recently-formed SCU Racial Justice Coalition consisting of staff and faculty. “The turnout was tremendous—somewhere between 300, maybe 400 people came out,” she says. “We were really surprised because of the air quality. There were lots of students, faculty, staff, members of the community.”

There wasn’t a formal plan for the rally that followed the march, Burnham says, but it was uplifting to see people spontaneously step up and speak. “The main theme was how long this has been going on, how frustrating it is to have these reports that lay out a pretty clear set of demands and not have them acted on,” she says, referring to four so-called Unity movements starting in 1985, the 2016 Blue Ribbon Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, and Campus Climate surveys that indicated a consensus among people of color of not feeling safe or welcome at SCU.

In addition to the appeals for University administration to swiftly act on these persistent demands to increase diversity and equity for people of color at SCU, protestors also came out in support of Danielle Morgan, assistant professor of English, following an August incident on campus involving Morgan, her family, and SCU Campus Safety.  The incident is under investigation. As recounted in a viral Twitter thread, Morgan’s brother was asked to leave campus and followed to her home adjacent to campus, where officers demanded identification and proof that she lives there. 

In an interview with America magazine about Jesuit universities’ response to racism and implicit bias, Morgan referenced the inaction of school administrators to these issues. It’s no longer acceptable to offer vague assurances about finding solutions to on-campus racism, she says. “I think my experience demonstrates that there is an urgency here. Campus administrations all across the country need to be making daily moves to rectify these kinds of situations so that this doesn’t happen again.”

Not a Moment, But a Movement

There were calls to reform Campus Safety and voicing of concerns regarding campus policing in general at the SCU protest, Burnham says. But mainly, “people have just lost patience,” she says. “These reports already exist. We’re still waiting. The longer we wait to act, the more students, the more faculty, the more staff, the more members of the community get subjected to the sort of treatment Dr. Morgan and her family experienced.”

Among the students who spoke at the rally was Isaac Addai ’21, a leader of the Black student group, Igwebuike, whose words moved many in the audience to tears. In a text message after the protest, Addai writes, “Although I am proud that our community is taking steps towards change, we need to actually and tangibly change for all of our statements to hold true weight and value.”  

In a video message response to the march, University President Kevin O’Brien, S.J., who attended the protest, says he was upset by students’ accounts of bias encountered on campus. “Since June I’ve heard from many of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni about their experiences of marginalization as people of color at Santa Clara,” he says. “I know that the pain lingers. But please also know that your witness will help us move forward in very real and accountable ways.

O’Brien offered an apology on behalf of the University, but acknowledged that an apology “will only become real when it is followed by concrete actions that do the work of anti-racism at Santa Clara.”

The path forward, he said, is one of restorative justice—in both the Catholic and American civic traditions—that rests on the coupling of truth-telling and justice-making through action. The path of reconciliation is one everyone at Santa Clara must walk together but the route must really be plotted by University leadership. 

At virtual Convocation the following week to usher in a new school year, O’Brien echoed his commitment to prioritizing the work it will take to make Santa Clara an anti-racist institution. “I invite you to join with me in this vital priority, for such transformation requires many hearts, hands, minds, and souls,” he implored attendees. Becoming anti-racist, O’Brien said, requires deep reflection of self and surroundings. “It means looking at our practices and policies all over campus, not just those related to Campus Safety but also those related to recruitment and retention of Black students, faculty, and staff and ensuring they can thrive here…In short, we need to move beyond self-examination to systems examination in all parts of campus.”

The President’s Office has released a series of actions in progress, including a review of Campus Safety procedures, unconscious bias training, and the commitment to recruit and retain more Black students, staff, and faculty. Additional actions in progress can be found on the Office of the President’s website.

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