Dysphoria swept over the audience as a video showing panic-stricken African American students at the University of Missouri laid bare the escalating racial tension and growing fear for blacks on predominantly white campuses nationwide.
“I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see,” one anonymous social media post threatened last week.
Another declared, “Some of you are alright. Don’t go to campus tomorrow.”
These words flashed across the projector during the video at the Mead Hall Auditorium on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 11 during a forum that was hosted by the Black Student Union (BSU).
“Let’s Talk About It” was BSU’s third forum of the semester. It consisted of an open discussion between a multicultural group of nearly 35 people.
The posts are just a few in a series that went viral early last week. They were originally made by an anonymous user on the social media app called Yik-Yak. Two suspects were arrested over the weekend for alleged involvement in the threats.
Following the threats, the University of Missouri (Mizzou) campus went into a complete lockdown. After the hostile situation de-escalated, protests began until both the president and chancellor of Mizzou were forced to resign due to their stagnation in dealing with racial concerns that had previously been raised on campus. The story was a topic that initiated the opening conversation of the forum.
“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” said NMU Board of Trustees member Robert Mahaney, using the famous quote by Winston Churchill to assess the the situation on Mizzou’s campus.
“It’s very disturbing what happened at the University of Missouri,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is going to come out a winner in that whole situation.”
Mahaney then questioned black students in the audience about how inclusive they feel at Northern. He said that one of the highest priorities at Northern is to increase diversity and that “we’re not where we need to be.”
Some students said that there is more ambiguity when it comes to racial issues on campus.
“I feel included to a certain extent. I don’t feel like there is any blatant ‘you don’t belong here’ type of thing, but it’s subtle things,” said co-president of BSU Jeulani Gahiji, a senior entrepreneurship major.
She said the purpose of the forum was for NMU students and members of the Marquette community to talk about race and race issues in America.
“We have had three successful sessions this semester in which we talked about a variety of things and people of color feel that we have a voice. We will continue to have this dialogue because we feel that it is necessary to have a healthy environment here at NMU.”
Other topics at the forum varied from the rise of the racial tension on college campuses, to racial incidents that are swept under the rug by some university administrators at different institutions.
There was even a discussion on how administrators show delay in affirmative decision making and prolonged action when it comes to racially hostile situations on campuses like Mizzou. The discussion led audience members to the question of how lives are prioritized in America.
Gahiji said that she feels apprehensive because on Thursday Nov. 12 a student was arrested at Michigan Tech for threatening to kill black people via Yik Yak.
“It’s definitely too close to home and I find myself being a bit more cautious around campus now. I don’t necessarily feel unsafe, but I don’t feel that everyone is welcoming of me either.”
Andre Stringer, also co-president of BSU, said that by encouraging more open-minded conversation more vital issues are able to be addressed.
“Communication and education is the best way to open a closed mind,” he said.
BSU is comprised of nearly 25 members. The organization recently went to Chicago and Detroit in an effort to draw more prospective inner city students to NMU.
“We took a week off of school and went to about nine high schools total and spoke to a little over 600 students.”
She said during that week BSU also attended an event in Detroit where the group was able to meet with alumni and talk about differences between the old NMU compared to now.
“It was an amazing experience and we have already gotten 30 applications from students due to our trip.”
BSU is planning to host three more “Let’s Talk About It” sessions next semester. There is expected to be one held every month except for May according to Gahiji.