The library is quiet. Empty chairs surround the table where I am sitting, a few students and staff pass by quietly. It is a different type of silence from the one I just experienced, "out there." Just a few moments ago, I stood alongside other African American students and allies in silent protest of the treatment of African American students at Fuller Theological Seminary. We stood for most of the entire service in silence. Surgical masks on our faces, signs in our hands. Signs that read, "Black Exodus" "Toxic Fuller" "Racial Hazzard" It was a different kind of silence.
I need to tell you about why I almost didn't make it to this protest. I woke up just before 8 that morning, wondering if it would be in my best interest to do so. It's been a week sense the doctor told me that I had to get my blood pressure down or else they'd put me on medication. Just weeks before that I suffered small anxiety attack before going into a room full of faculty about the ways white normativity affects students of color. The year before that I had several attacks in a week. Some would call that progress.
Long and short, I didn't want to go because I know what happens when I place my mind and body in contested spaces. I was beginning to think I had lost the capacity to do so and a break would be best. It's finals week, I'm tired, and I honestly don't know if I believe that the institution will change. But then I remembered the students and their stories. I remembered my own frustrations. I remembered that even if Fuller didn't change course, I was still to "live in the turn" (Thanks Dwight).
The people were unaware, at first. Slowly, heads started to turn and stare at us. In one hand I held a sign that read "Black Exodus" representing the mass exodus of black faculty and staff. Currently, there are no African American Faculty in the schools of Theology or Intercultural Studies. Not one. In the other hand was the hand of Jennifer Guerra, an alum and dear friend. As Dr. Martinez gave the Baccalaureate address from the stage, we walked forward, hand in hand with our sign. Standing at the bottom of the stage, we turned to face the faculty rows. Some made eye contact and smiled. Others averted their eyes and looked at their feet. Very few had on masks in solidarity, but many stood upon request and stood with us for the entire service. The service continued. They sang and prayed. I did not. Many cried. I held my tears, and Jennifer's hand.
The President, Dr. Labberton, gave some words of acknowledgement of the protest and even included a prayer of repentance. More singing and praying. Then, for the first time that I've seen, he called for an alter call for those who wanted to "do better." I locked eyes with a friend. I hear you, but I am just not sure that I believe you.
My legs started to get tired. My feet hurt. I closed my eyes and remembered why I was there. Remembered the stories of students who were threatened, or told "you shouldn't be here" or told "you are not a good fit for this place." Remembering students fighting for curricular changes or faculty that not only look like them, but who bring the richness of our culture and contribution to scholarship and life. Remembering the white normativity that pervaded the space in classrooms and meetings and remembering the well crafted speech of "not yet." I stood up straight.
I've been at Fuller since 2011. During my master's program, I was able to engage in much of what Fuller offered, including being student body president. I had a good run. But I was not ignorant to what stirred beneath the surface. I remember writing a blog for the school in my first quarter questioning whether or not Fuller's diversity went beyond data. I remember the meetings with students and administration in 2011-12 about lack of diverse readings and similar comments students still hear from professors today. I remember ending my tenure writing an article entitled, "I am not your Token" in response to comments about my relationship to the student newspaper. But even still, my relations with Fuller were minor in comparison to those around me and those who came after.
I came back to Fuller because I wanted to honor the relationship with my Advisor, Bill Dyrness. I do not regret that decision. But I would be foolish to ignore the acuteness of white supremacy that is embedded into the roots of the institution. And post 2016 election, it is safe to say that the shit has officially hit the fan.
I protested today because Fuller needed to be called out regarding its policies (and lack thereof) surrounding racial discrimination, about its treatment of black students in distress, about its lack of diverse readings, about its lack of black faculty, about its empty words and no action, and about how this has continued for years. I protested today first because of the black students and also because of other students of color. Because of the female and gender fluid students, because of the LGBTQIA students and the students with disabilities. I protested because of Fuller students. But also students at APU, and at Duke, and at GTS and Northwestern, and Princeton and Yale and other institutions who hold student and faculty voices on the margins of the center that has rooted them since their inception. But mostly I protested for myself. I protested because I refused to be silenced by a system, either through discrimination or through exhaustion.
I believe in theological education. I want to be the type of leader, teacher and scholar who sees the brilliance in her students and works to amplify them. I want to be a teacher who never stops being a student, who learns and is humble when she is wrong. I want to be a leader who always fights for the oppressed, and I want to raise up others to do the same. I want to work to dismantle unjust systems in this academy, and I want to create a space where students of all backgrounds fell seen and heard and contribute their brilliance and richness of their experience to the conversation.