More than twenty UC Irvine Black Student Union members silently locked arms yesterday on Ring Road near the school's flag pole plaza, stretching the width of the main thoroughfare on campus to show solidarity with their black counterparts at the University of Missouri. Protests erupted at Mizzou after a series of racist incidents boiled over in frustration. Black football players led calls for boycotting future games if student demands hadn't been met, a move helping sack University of Missouri system President Tim Wolfe, who resigned.
UCI students joined in a nationwide day of actions across campuses forming a line of their own. "As a Black Student Union and political organization, it's our job to intervene," Sandra Johnson, BSU co-chair at UCI, told the Weekly. "Even though it's not us personally, it can be one of us any day."
The silent protest lasted for five hours starting at 10 a.m. and ending around 3 p.m. When people approached the line, the signs held up by students made it clear why they locked arms in silence. Non-Black students formed their own line back-to-back with the BSU in support. Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" and James Brown's "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud," blared from speakers. A Bernie Sanders presidential campaign table set up shop next to black students–so close, yet so far away.
The UCI BSU only granted an interview to the Weekly, sparing us the unwelcome mat Mizzou students rolled out for an ESPN freelance photographer, sparking journalism debates. But the real discussion is how BSU members at UCI can relate to University of Missouri student protesters. The demands between the two campuses are similar, including the call for more black faculty and black student retention resources.
So, too, is the racism. In 2013, an Asian-American fraternity uploaded an infamous black face video causing a stir. Two years before that, a cafeteria on campus sold chicken and waffles for Martin Luther King Day. Instances that made media headlines only scratch the surface of everyday racism black students at UCI face, a campus where they are only 2% of the population.
Johnson, a fourth year double major in African-American Studies and Educational Science, helped form BSU's list of demands that were delivered to UCI's administration last year. The administration promised to take initiative on seven of the nine by the students' due date this past June. Johnson says that no progress has been made, especially on the demand that UCI police be dismantled.
"Right now, we are here on this campus, not just for solidarity, but to get the reaction of the administration just in case it happens here," Johnson says. "What would we do?
Black athletes at UCI know what they'd do if protests swelled over racism at school. "They feel pressured, used and tokenized as well," Johnson says of private conversations with them. A few athletes joined the protest line, fists raised to the sky.
"It's not a day that goes by that I do not receive any racism whether its a serious one, someone saying violent or something in class," Johnson says. "Mizzou is a call to action for all black students in all universities, and hopefully in black communities as well, to speak up on the issues we face."
Follow Gabriel San Román on Twitter @gsanroman2