By: Nilo Exar, Assistant News Editor
Student activists John Gillespie and Bilphena Yahwon announced the formation of a new, student-led activist group last week, during a Dec. 2 workshop related to last month’s #OccupyTowson sit-in.
A board of nine students, who hold leadership positions in different areas of the Towson University community, will lead the group called the Organized Network of Student Resistance (ONSR).
“The way we want this to work is we navigate throughout a network… so the best way to get involved with this organization is to get involved with an already started black organization or colored organization,” Gillespie said. “We’re going to be networking and talking and making sure we can do things in the future with each other.”
ONSR will operate on four main tenets: education, culture of action, intersectionality and intra/intercollegiate communication.
The education tenet applies to informing students of the history and persistence of racism, sexism, transphobia and homophobia at Towson, as well as giving students the tools to verbalize how they are oppressed.
“We want to make sure that our members are familiar with various terms and can discuss their oppression,” Yahwon said. “I think one of the reasons that oppressed groups are oppressed even more is because they don’t have the language to express their oppression.”
ONSR will also stress a culture of action to “ensure that the network of students involved are willing to put their bodies of the line in the fight for social justice across all intersections of oppression,” according a PowerPoint presented at the workshop.
Gillespie said that the group might go “door-to-door” next semester to get students thinking about race.
The intersectionality tenet will focus on fighting for justice on the behalf of students of color and all underrepresented groups. There will be at least one LGBTQIA+ student on the board, and Gillespie and Yahwon promised to work with the In The Life group, and alongside the LGBTQIA+ community more closely and actively.
Yahwon, who describes herself as a womanist, says that the group’s intersectionality is one of her favorite parts.
Yahwon says womanism “focuses on the gender oppression of black women.”
“I think a lot of times within activism, there are certain identities that get lost, and I think that’s something that John and I have been very mindful of,” Yahwon said. “It’s all love, and we want to advocate for everyone, making sure no one in our community feels left out based on their identities.”
The intra/intercollegiate tenet will help to increase communication among blacks, people of color, and other underrepresented groups at universities in Baltimore and within the University System of Maryland. The ONSR will reach out to similar groups and student leaders and coordinate with the faculty-led Social Justice Collective.
“In order to community build, you have to go to these other organizations,” Gillespie said. “In order to have direct action, you have to have a committee of people who work out the plans for those actions. It’s important for people to know that this is about community-building at its core.”
ONSR will host and coordinate multiple events next semester, including a teach-in on the contract between all USM schools to purchase their furniture through the Maryland Correctional Enterprises program, which uses low-wage inmate labor.