Black students engage in long tradition of campus activism

By L. Malik Anderson

Wind whistles through the campus streets where students once protested for the validation of black bodies. Where students once echoed “Black Lives Matter!” at night there is now silence.

“The campus climate was very eerie and off balance,” sophomore Devonte Foley said. “Opinions seemed one sided in favor of liberals but many people had radical views which surfaced every once in a while.”

Foley lived on the Multicultural Learning Community (MLC) his freshmen year in Witte Hall, a residence hall neighboring Sellery Hall where several racial bias incidents occurred. One of Foley’s floormates, a black student, received a threatening note under her door. These incidents inspired black students from these halls to engage in various forms of social activism under the moniker of “The Real UW.”

“I personally felt uncomfortable at times and feared for my mental and sometimes physical safety,” Foley said.

The Real UW, a collective of black students, many of whom were first year students living in these residence halls, used social media as their platform to share their experiences while on campus.

Sophomore Tashiana Lipscomb said she felt like some people attempted to co-opt the movement and make it their own at times. She said campus newspapers often confused the movement with other student groups.

“The Real UW was separate from The Blindside,” she said. “They were two totally different groups.”

The Blindside, a slate of 23 candidates for Associated Students of Madison (ASM) elections, developed as a response to the need for inclusion in the student governing body. This group’s timeline coincided with The Real UW’s efforts.

Both movements sparked civic participation among students of color. The Real UW included a hashtag and a string of protests.

Hundreds of people, including UW-Madison students and community members, gather on Bascom Hill at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for a “Black Out March” at night on Nov. 12, 2015. The event was intended to show solidarity and support for Afro-American students at the University of Missouri amid recent events and protests on the MU campus concerning racial issues. Kenneth Cole, one of the organizers for BlindSide is pictured with a megaphone next to Tashiana Lipscomb who is holding the sign.

“We wanted administration to know how black students feel on this campus,” Lipscomb said.

Students of color on campus have a long history of protesting at the university. Over 500 students participated in a demonstration on Library Mall in 1960. Many people have referred to this civil rights protests as one of the largest in campus history involving black students.

A new movement follows with each generation. Waves of protest continued in the 1970’s, 80’s, mid-90’s, and late 2000’s. Black students have never stopped protesting.

“My undergraduate and graduate experiences was marked by student protest and activism,” recent Alumna Brittany Ota-Malloy said.  

Ota-Malloy now studies the experiences of multiracial students through her PhD program. Throughout her research, she also learns about multiracial college student experiences with racialized activism on college campuses. This includes on campus demonstrations such as the “UW Blackout” and “Black Lives Matter” protests.

Ota-Malloy also notes that while some things have changed, like the expansion of new resources, scholarship programs and a new Black Cultural Center, other things remained the same. Others alumni echothis sentiment.

“Now, the anxiety is much worse since Trump got elected,” Foley said.

Black students and other students from other marginalized groups still feel as though their identities are under attack. However, Foley found safe spaces through the POSSE Scholars Office, Multicultural Student Center (MSC) and MLC.