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Black Lives Matter; Are People Listening?

Connor Swagler, Reporter

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“You’re Black, Lena. Aren’t you supposed to be fast?”

That was the question that a former basketball coach once asked  junior communications major Lena Williams. Williams, who served an a panelist on the university’s Black Lines Matter panel during Martin Luther King Jr. week events,  shared the remark to answer an  audience member’s question: “Have you ever experienced racism in your sport?”

Dan Kimbrough, Assistant Professor of Communications, moderated the panel, which took place in Insalaco Hall. Turnout was small, but those who attended were fully engaged and curious about each panel member’s experiences.

Multicultural Coordinator Charmaine Aguilar, who in October helped organize a Brown Lives Matter panel, feels the Black Lives Matter event was a success.

“People either go to these events or they don’t, and that speaks loud. What I walk away with isn’t what I experience, but what I see. We have these conversations, and there is only 40 people in the audience, so does that mean only 40 people care? That’s what I walk away with,” said Aguilar

All of the panel members shared their experiences dealing with racism, which Kimbrough feels is important to address.

“Here on campus, we tend to avoid issues of significance,” said Kimbrough. Kimbrough also shared his experiences in dealing with racism growing up and as a professor. But he believes that’s not enough.

“It’s important for students to lead these, because it’s different. It’s peers engaging peers, and this way they’re more likely to relate and listen,” said Kimbrough.

Aguilar planned this panel because she feels issues of race are important, not only for students, but for the larger community as well.

“I think it’s important to expose the institution, considering it’s a mostly white campus, to expose them to issues that effect other students, who also attend this campus,” said Aguilar.

Students and the community members in attendance were so interested that the event, scheduled from 7 until 8:00 p.m., ran more than  30 minutes longer because attendees wanted to continue the conversation.

The audience was shocked at certain points in the discussion, when panelists shared jarring memories.

Tyler Lamberson, a white member of the panel, discussed how he personally had never suffered discrimination although he has seen it, even within his own family.

Lamberson explained that his family owned a restaurant, and he noticed that black employees were only allowed to work in the kitchen. Lamberson said he approached a family member and asked why.

“The black people belonged in the kitchen,” is the answer Lamberson said he received.

The attendees also seemed uncomfortable to hear what Devin Oyola had to say about his past experiences dealing with racism.

Oyola spoke about a time in his hometown when he went to a convenience store to get a beverage. He said he wasn’t sure that he wanted the drink he had picked, so he put it back and grabbed another kind.

When Oyola approached the counter, he was accused of stealing.

“The man at the counter wanted to search my bag.” Oyola said.

After persistently refusing to allow the man to search his bag, Oyola, frustrated with the situation, relented to the search.

It’s situations like these that Aguilar wants to bring awareness to.

“I believe some people walked out of there aware of things they may or may not do.”

Williams believes that the panel was important in enabling her voice to be heard.

“The panel gives us a voice in a professional setting,” said Williams.

Williams looks on her experience on the panel with pride, but she recognizes how uncomfortable it can be to have honest conversations about race.

“It was an interesting experience. I liked telling my story, but it was uncomfortable because the president was there,” Williams explained.

Aguilar believes the information from the panel discussions have already made an impact. Aguilar said a student went into her office and had a conversation with her.

“‘Wow I’ve been sheltered,” she said the student told her.

Aguilar believes there are ways that everyone can be active in the movement.

“How do you get involved? You don’t have to be completely invested. But maybe it’s something where you find something that’s very doable. You can do your piece by either signing a petition or making a sign. Sometimes it’s the little things you need to make the big boom,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar stresses that all students are welcome to stop in multicultural office in Banks Student Life Center anytime.

“The office is open to any student, any student who would like to get involved or seek awareness. The office is open to anyone.”

Aguilar said she has personally seen the impact conversations can have among people of different backgrounds. Williams said she has seen it, too.

“The panel gave us a chance to express how we felt to people who can actually fix this issue,” said Williams.

In addition to Williams, panelists included graduate physical therapy student Trever Reed, senior business administration/sports management major Tyler Lamberson, and junior sports management major Devin Oyola.

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Black Lives Matter; Are People Listening?