Letter to the Editor: A statement from student activist John Gillespie

Student Activist John Gillespie reads from the list of demands.

To Whom It May Concern,

First, I want to say thank you to anyone and everyone who was supporting us throughout the entirety of the #occupytowson protest. For eight long hours, numerous black students (and a few white allies) stood together to stand on the side of justice and equality in order to create a more diverse, inclusive and safe campus at Towson University.

At around 3:30 PM, we walked into the President’s office in unison with a list of demands and articulated that we had no desire to leave until our demands were signed. Interim President Chandler had every right to leave, but it was our intention to remain there until there was an institutional agreement to commit to the mental, emotional and intellectual health and development of the black students of the University. In the end, I believe we did not only get the honest intention behind our demands signed, but we had our original expectations far exceeded. However, we must not let this victory, which seems like a large victory, be misconstrued into the last step toward addressing the major concerns here at Towson University. There are still many battles left to be fought and many stones left unturned.

Secondly, there has to be clarification once again on the reasoning behind the necessitated urgency in which the events transpired. The #occupytowson protest did not spring up from any isolated event – the narratives shared on Nov. 11, where the black student body revealed shadowed concerns are a testament to the fact. Towson University has a historical and a contemporaneous issue with institutional, overt and micro-aggressive racism. We cannot forget that it was only about two years ago that a noted white supremacist, Matthew Heimbach, walked the halls of Towson University. He caused an atmosphere of hostility with threats of night patrols to “protect white women from black men,” anti-Semitic remarks and hate speech against persons of various underrepresented backgrounds.

Additionally, the fact that Towson University currently has only 4% of their black faculty on the tenure track is a reflection of the institutional inability to retain and recruit black tenure and tenure-track professors. The necessity for the University to implement methods to improve retention and recruitment rates for black tenure and tenure-track professors at Towson University has been a major concern for student activists for years now. The events at the University of Missouri were a catalyst for expediting the process in addressing these issues, but they were not the sole purpose. The urgency resulted from the historical, social and political indifference to the conditions and concerns of a solid group of black students at the University.

Lastly, going forward, there needs to be a considerable amount of dialogue concerning these demands and their implications for Towson University and universities across the Maryland State School system. Within the black community, what this means is that we need to educate the entire student body, but specifically, the black student body on the purpose behind the demands and the importance of their implementation and continual evolution as time requires more issues to be addressed. Additionally, this means that we need to integrate and intersect the black Towson community by incorporating more holistically, the black LGBTQI+ members, into the loving environment of the rest of the black student body. Hence, in the future, there has to be a more direct line of contact, transparency and organization so in the event that the demands are not met, all black students and all black leaders can have a say in what needs to be done to truly change racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic University culture within the rest of the Towson community.

I hope that there could be an immense amount of reflection on the events that occurred, and the reactions of the student body and the world toward us, as students, fighting for what is rightly ours to fight for. The future of Towson University rest in the ability for the white students to recognize that these problems aren’t made up. They are real and they are affecting us every day. If they weren’t we wouldn’t be still fighting the same fight, we’ve been fighting for years now.

Thank You,

John Gillespie

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