Clock Tower Contention

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Protest brings racial injustice to the forefront

“Educate, organize and empower.”

That was the goal of the “Occupy SLU” event held by civil rights organization Tribe X at Saint Louis University from Oct. 13-18. This “revolutionary act,” as the group called it, came about after the group’s eight members discussed ways to target institutional racism in light of the recent deaths of Michael Brown and Vonderrit Myers. It ended after negotiations were made between Tribe X, SLU administration and Metro St. Louis Coalition for Inclusion and Equity (M-SLICE).

“Tribe X’s decision for the action to occur at SLU was due to the SLU mission – ‘pursuit of truth,’” said Tribe X member and SLU student Jonathan Pulphus. “Often, systematic racism operates here at SLU without challenge…Tribe X’s initial goal was to pop [the ‘SLU bubble’] and bleed out the bigotry, arrogance, and ignorance.”

The event, one of several demonstrations that spoke out against police brutality and racial injustice, began Sunday evening as over 1,000 peaceful protestors marched from the Shaw neighborhood, near the scene of Myers’ shooting, toward Saint Louis University. Once on campus, participants gathered around the campus clock tower and the protest continued until early morning, when it evolved into a sit-in. Tribe X members and a few other individuals that were still left in the morning built an encampment at the clock tower, where they remained until Saturday. The protestors spent the week engaging with the SLU community through dialogue on racial injustice.

“[Students need] to realize that being a SLU student means that you’re also a St. Louis community member,” said Tribe X member and SLU student Alisha Sonnier. “Being a man and a woman for others means that you cannot isolate yourself from what’s going on around you.”

Sonnier commented on the protest being “revolutionary” and like nothing SLU has ever seen before. She also remarked that, in allowing the protestors to remain on campus, the University showed that it “is an institution that lives up to its mission.”

Another Tribe X member, Dhoruba Shakur, wanted the protest to serve as encouragement for students who similarly want their voices to be heard.

“Don’t be scared to push the boundaries on your college campus for things that you want – don’t go overboard with it – but…don’t be afraid to push the limit, if it’s a positive thing and if it’s something that’s going to empower people,” said Shakur. “And don’t be afraid to talk about the issues that a lot of people shy away from.”

The “Occupy SLU” event was met with both positive and negative responses from the SLU community, and while disagreements varied in nature, group dialogues allowed individuals to voice their opinions.

“Last Monday, I stood up against the crowds clamoring for what they call ‘justice’ for Michael Brown,” said SLU student Eric Ober. “I spoke my mind in front of hundreds of my peers. Many students there agreed with me.”

The University also had social media platforms through which people could express their opinions or concerns and a webcam set up for those who wished to view the clock tower events as they occurred. Many who were in opposition to the protestors being on campus commented about feeling unsafe – or about concern for their children’s safety. The Billiken Parent Association (BPA) addressed many of these apprehensions during the week.

“This protest represented a good learning opportunity for the SLU community and its students,” said BPA Co-Chair Mark Schwendeman. “We encouraged BPA Executive Board parents to trust that the University handled the potential of danger, and we as parents had the opportunity to grow and learn from this protest.”

After Saturday’s negotiations, the encampment was “voluntarily and permanently removed”, according to President Pestello, and Pulphus said he felt “content – for now.” Agreements between the group and SLU include an increase in funding towards black student retention, a larger budget for the University’s African American Studies Program, and the creation of a bridge program for future Billikens living in the Shaw and Normandy neighborhoods.

“What I hope people realize is that when your community improves, when St. Louis improves, Saint Louis University improves,” said Sonnier.