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Not In My Backyard

Campus | February 3, 2015

“Rest in Power,” read one brick facade. Others bore chalk outlines of bodies, with the names of black victims of police brutality scrawled over their hearts—Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin.
“Black Lives Matter…”

“We can’t breathe…”

Students chanted these and other phrases of grief and empowerment in their march from Tufts to the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, and in their protests in Dewick, Dowling Hall, and Tisch Library.

The national Black Lives Matter movement has made its presence known on the Tufts campus by a group of students who call themselves “Indict Tufts.” Their motives are clear, and the majority of the Tufts campus including staff and faculty—according to Dean Carmen Lowe—seems to sympathize with them. However, their methods of protest have sparked a serious conversation about deliberate disruption in the name of a cause.

Carissa Fleury, one of the leaders of “Indict Tufts,” described the group’s purpose: “[“Indict Tufts”] started as a group of people who were feeling a lot of frustration and anger and pain and wanted to come together to feel those things together. And then it morphed into more people just planning action and using the privilege we have of going to this university to disrupt the ‘business as usual’ narrative that exists.”

Another member of the group, Sam Slate, explained, “I benefit from, and in turn contribute to, a system of oppression that continually puts people of color down in order to raise white people up. My silence has been and will continue to be complacency until I break that silence and start speaking up. That’s what I’m doing: speaking up.”

Disruption, then, is their goal. “Indict Tufts” wants their peers to feel the discomfort they experience in “the racist society we live in” every day, according to freshman Morgan Freeman. They want to raise their voices, loudly.

The protesters forced peers to take time out of their meals, lose focus on their studying, and for a few students who require special academic accommodations, to pause their testing in Dowling. The question remains whether the impact of the “Indict Tufts” protests are worth their magnitude.

Freshman Justin Brogan pointed out, “Active citizenship and political participation…are very important to Tufts students.” Students have no real reason to be surprised by the protests because Tufts’ fundamental ideology encourages such action.

Perhaps it is because these complaints run so contrary to the supposed Tufts ideology that they are often publicized anonymously. On December 11th, 2014, the day of the protests in Tisch, YikYak was flooded with complaints similar to this comment: “Really? The library? I wish I had been studying there so I could’ve told these people to shut up and study for their finals.”

It seems as if students are more supportive of the protests far away than the ones that disturb their personal lives on campus. Such sentiments were present in other analyses of the Tisch and Dewick protests. Freshman Tory Kolbjornsen said, “I think doing it in the library is a little rude because people are working and it’s typically a quieter area on campus.”

Carissa understands these negative reactions, but explains that this is part of their purpose. “People don’t like to feel uncomfortable and they don’t like to feel targeted. There were a lot of things said on social media. Some were constructive criticisms, but a lot of them were ignorant comments.”

However, Dean of Academic Advising & Undergraduate Studies Carmen Lowe explained one way in which the protesters may have been unintentionally troublesome: “The disruption that I found to be especially problematic was the disruption of students with disabilities who were taking final exams in Dowling Hall. Despite the signs posted quite visibly asking for quiet while students were taking exams, the protesters stood right outside the doors where students were taking exams and shouted loudly for several minutes…These students were startled by the protestors and could not continue their exams until the shouting stopped.” This, more than the others, appears to be a moral case against the protests on campus. Other complaints have been ones of inconvenience.

Aside from this disruption, there remains a more universal concern among the administration for how such frequent civil disobedience affects the personal lives of the protestors. Tufts students may remember the email sent out by Dean of Undergraduate and Graduate Studies John Barker in early December regarding the protests, which reads: “The staff in Dowling Hall understand and respect that a student’s individual reason for activism in this protest might be deeply felt. However, involvement in any type of activity that is a student’s choice does not merit extensions or incompletes.”

Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Jean Barker believes the email was sent both in support of the students’ activities and out of concern for their academics. Dean Lowe explained, “As a dean, I am more concerned by the way in which student activists are consumed by the stress (physically, emotionally) of the ongoing protests (and, even more so, of the stress of the underlying cause of the protests).”

This stress, though, is viewed more as a valiant effort by the protestors. They took on the responsibility of speaking out in a community they believed needed change. Unlike the campus community, the towns and T stops between Medford and MIT responded positively to Tufts marchers, cheering from sidewalks and windows, honking their horns, and joining the proceedings.

Despite a mix of reactions, “Indict Tufts” left a significant imprint on our campus. Born from oppression and anger, its members clearly communicated these emotions to their witnesses—the Tufts student body. They caused what many believe to be a messy, beautiful stir.

Photographs by Hannah Ryde.