On Oct. 20, 2016, the Undergraduate Student Association’s (USA) Diversity Committee hosted their first Enlight-Night, which focused on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Movement and the issues surrounding systematic oppression, racism, police brutality, and other humanitarian problems that face our country regarding race. The gathering, which began at 8 p.m. and lasted until nearly 11 p.m., was designed as a “safe space” for students to have a voice and discuss social conflicts.
It was clear from the beginning of the event that USA was not prepared for the large influx of students in attendance, as they were constantly grabbing chairs from nearby rooms to accommodate the big crowd. The event was structured in a way that introduced professors with knowledge of racial history, philosophy and social injustice (as well as one representative from Peace Action NYS), split students up into small groups (which were quite large) and allowed for open discussion and a Q & A with the professors. It brought up so many issues regarding racial injustice on and off campus, implicit bias, the role of the media in influencing racial tension and peaceful protest methods and the meaning of the Star Spangled Banner. Following this discussion, the professors answered anonymous questions and then three African-American students gave testimonials about being black on campus.
The night itself was long (like, three hours for an event is quite exhausting after a day of classes) but so incredibly influential. The professors and representatives came well-prepared and spoke with passion and candor that was simultaneously informative and allowed for open, judge-free discussion. The students who spoke were deeply emotional and gave a real and tangible perspective to the black student experience and the necessity of the BLM. By the end of the night, the students who had stayed for the entirety of the event were in standing ovation, and the chair of the diversity committee, Christina Estime, was in tears.
The Griffin would like to personally congratulate Ms. Estime, her diversity committee, and all of USA for the terrific job they have done in sparking in essential conversation about the movement. It seems that students were truly motivated to move forth in their communities and speak up about the issues that affect their communities, truly becoming men and women for and with others. It is this kind of event, which allows students to participate in intelligent, seminar-style discussions, that actually motivate and educate. One can even argue that these types of events are more effective than discussions had in classroom settings. With no pressure of a grade, or agreeing with a professor’s opinion, or sounding ignorant or uninformed, there was meaningful discussion. The Griffin, came out much more educated about the topic, and aware of the implicit privilege that some of our members have (and what we can do about it, both individually and as an organization).
Obviously, being the first of these types of events, there were some small issues regarding the effectiveness of the event’s structure. Discussions were short due to the mass amounts of students participating, anonymous questions had to be cut due to time constraints, and the timing of the event had caused some students to leave early, simply because they were unable to stay there all night long. However, given these small critiques, the positive impact of the discussion had far outweighed the small issues the event had faced. With one Enlight-Night under their belt, The Griffin, is confident that further events will be even more effective.
The only thing that we can ask for, is more. More from USA, more from the diversity committee, more from administration, more from the college. President and former Griffin Editor, John J. Hurley, spoke at the beginning of the event, expressing the need to have more “constructive conversations about race” and thanking students for being “brave” enough to attend the event. Talking about oppression is difficult. Seeing the news is difficult. Feeling unable to help and overwhelmed by the everyday burdens of life and college while also having strong urges to fight every instance of social injustice you see is so difficult. We need to give students the means to take the issues they are passionate about, educate themselves in a nonthreatening or competitive setting, and give them the direction and opportunities to translate their passions into actions.
As student organizations keep making the necessary strides to providing students with these opportunities, it is our duty as students to actually attend these events and force ourselves to get involved with these uncomfortable conversations. Not only by attending future Enlight-Nights, but by attending events put on by our Afro American Society, UNITY, and the ALANA association (amongst others). The greatest gift that we have as students at this college is that we are surrounded by difference. The unique beauty in our diversity has the power to be transformative to our perspectives if we allow it to be.
The Griffin cannot wait to be in attendance at future events and encourages students and club leaders alike to follow USA’s lead in enlightening controversial conversations on campus. The next Enlight-Night discussion will be on LGTBQIA rights through the Hispanic and Latino/a perspective. It is with great respect for the efforts of the diversity committee that we at The Griffin beg for just one more thing:
Bring us more.