Students and campus community members flooded State Street Thursday evening in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri surrounding protests that recently led to the university system president’s resignation.
In the past two months, Mizzou students have begun protesting and speaking out against hate crimes and other racially charged events that happened over the last five years at the mostly white university.
The protests, including a boycott by black members of the football team, sparked a nationwide response that found its way to the top of Bascom Hill this week, where UW-Madison students and community members huddled in support.
“I’m here because I believe in fighting the injustices we see at Missouri and here on campus,” said UW-Madison fifth-year senior Tiffany Merritt-Brown. “As a black student, I believe in fighting and taking a stand against the things we see going on.”
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered atop the hill, where leaders of the Black Liberation Movement—an alliance of the Young, Gifted & Black Coalition, the Black Student Union and Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán—called for action and led “black lives matter” chants.
The crowd then marched down the hill to State Street, where it gained momentum, at one point totaling up to 1,000 people, UW-Madison Police Department Lieutenant Aaron Chapin estimated. He added there were no issues with the large, but peaceful, crowd.
“I think it’s a fantastic thing when people in the United States are able to exercise their First Amendment rights. The First Amendment is like a muscle; if you don’t flex it and use it, it withers and fails,” Chapin said. “So a rally like this where people get to exercise their First Amendment, be able to put their beliefs out there, be able to talk about it in a safe form, is a fantastic thing.”
Vice Provost for Student Life and Dean of Students Lori Berquam, who was among the crowd, said this exercise of student rights is not new to UW-Madison.
“I think our campus has a history of activism, and I want to see the students have passion for something they believe in and that they stand for. It’s what will help us, as a nation, be stronger, and certainly help our campus,” Berquam said. “I’m happy to see the support and the number of students who came together tonight to support each other on this chilly night.”
One of those students was UW-Madison fifth-year senior Claire Stamborski, who said even students on a predominantly white campus have an important role in fighting for equality.
“I feel like it’s important that white students come out because I think a lot of times if you don’t come out, it gives the impression that you’re not willing to engage in discussion and that you just don’t care. So I think it’s important for white students to be involved because they’re the ones that perpetuate and cause a lot of harm to people of color,” Stamborski said.
Through wind and cold, the diverse crowd shared personal stories and chanted, “racism is at Mizzou, it’s on our campus too,” eventually congregating on the Capitol steps, where leaders called upon demonstrators of all backgrounds for action.
“It makes me, as a student of color, feel supported and loved to hear people of all races shout, ‘black lives matter’ and to see them come out and stay in the cold,” Merritt-Brown said.