PULLMAN – Several hundred people marched across the Washington State University campus on Saturday evening to denounce racism and call for tougher actions by the WSU administration to curb discriminatory rhetoric.
The demonstration came in response to the gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia that quickly devolved into violence and left three people dead last week. Lashae Daniels, a third-year WSU student who organized Saturday’s rally, said the same types of bigotry that devastated Charlottesville have been festering in Pullman.
Daniels cited the student-organized “Trump wall” rally that rocked campus in October and the dissemination of a racist video – in which she and several other black college students were mocked – in May.
Daniels, along with other students who gave speeches after Saturday’s march, accused WSU President Kirk Schulz of doing little to foster an a inclusive campus environment. A number of students have called on the administration to expel James Allsup, a poster boy of the alt-right who resigned last week as president of the school’s College Republicans chapter. As of last week, Allsup wasn’t enrolled for the fall semester.
Daniels said she believes “that Kirk Schulz has given a white supremacist a platform.”
The university has, however, launched a formal initiative to improve the campus social climate, and Schulz has issued forceful statements in response to several controversies. After the racist video surfaced in May, for example, a letter bearing his signature declared, “The attitudes, the behavior, and the language expressed in the video are not acceptable. Individuals with those beliefs are not welcome in our community.”
Saturday’s protest was loud but orderly. Demonstrators chanted “No Nazis! No KKK! No fascist USA!” and other refrains as they marched in a loop that started and ended near Beasley Coliseum. WSU police escorted them on foot and in patrol cars. There were no counterprotesters, and the campus was relatively empty two days before the start of the fall semester.
Jasmine Anthony, a freshman who hasn’t yet started classes at WSU, said she participated in the rally to help create an inclusive campus environment. She said various national tragedies – and especially the mayhem in Charlottesville – have made clear the extent to which bigotry permeates American culture.
“We just want to make sure that this stuff won’t be tolerated on this campus or any other campus,” Anthony said. “America is a place where everyone should be allowed to feel safe.”
Gabrielle Miller, an activist from Uniontown, just south of Pullman, said she cringes whenever someone looks at a national tragedy like Charlottesville and says, “This is not America.”
The racial tensions and consequent violence have deep roots in American history, Miller said. And white people, given their outsize power and privilege, have a responsibility to change that, she said.
“White supremacy is perpetuated by white society,” she said.
During the Charlottesville protests, a car driven by 20-year-old James Fields of Ohio – photographed in the midst of white supremacist during the Charlottesville rally – plowed into a crowd of people, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring at least 19 others.
Shawn Trojahn, who’s pursuing a doctorate in biology at WSU, said he’s from Virginia and knows a woman who was hospitalized after the incident.
“She’s one of the minor injuries, thank God,” Trojahn said.
In a speech after Saturday’s march, Trojahn urged people to educate their children in diversity and multiculturalism. He also urged them to vote.
“You need to register and get officials elected that are willing to come here and tell you that hate is wrong,” he said.
Jordan Frost, president of the Associated Students of WSU, said he planned to discuss the issues raised at Saturday’s rally with university administrators, several of whom were in attendance.
“We’re here because students are here – a lot of students – and they have concerns,” Frost said.
Many demonstrators spoke of “white silence,” or complacency among white people that enables racism to thrive. Daniels urged white people, particularly straight white men, to “use your privilege” and speak up for those who face discrimination.
“It’s exhausting being in my skin,” she said.
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