Students, faculty form committee for Black Lives Matter movement

Jeanne Kuang, Managing Editor

Students and faculty members have formed a new committee within Northwestern’s Center for African American History to create programming focused on the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Black People Making History Committee is a collaboration of about 15 students and faculty members that grew out of discussions between African American Studies Profs. Barnor Hesse and Sherwin K. Bryant, director of the Center for African American History, as well as student organizers. The events will be in conjunction with Black History Month.

“We wanted to do something around the whole phenomenon of Black Lives Matter,” said Hesse, a committee member who spoke on behalf of the group.

Hesse said many other universities’ faculty have spoken out about Black Lives Matter, a national movement surrounding racial disparities in the United States that gained prominence in August 2014 after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Hesse said it was “glaringly obvious” that NU needed to address the issue as well.

“We haven’t done that yet, so it was an opportunity for Northwestern faculty and students to engage with this issue through a teach-in, which says something about what we think about these things,” Hesse said.

The committee will hold a teach-in Tuesday featuring faculty presentations on racial issues and a panel discussion.

“Having faculty support is extremely important,” said SESP senior Sarah Watson, another committee member.

In the past, student activists have felt the University administration did not support them, Watson said.

“We felt like we were just going and going and we didn’t have that high-level support,” Watson said. “Working on this project, having that institutional support from Professor Bryant, from Professor Hesse and other post-docs and graduate students who are involved is really, really crucial.”

In the past week, the committee has launched an art campaign circulating images of the word “Breathe” on social media and around campus, as well as quotes surrounding the concept from notable artists throughout black history, such as James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry.

Watson called the campaign “a performance art medium that we are using to mobilize people around these issues.”

The word “breathe” has been recently associated with the last words of Eric Garner, “I can’t breathe.” Garner died in New York City in July 2014 after being put in a police chokehold, and his death, along with Brown’s, has been integral to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If you actually look into that phrase or that idea, as we’ve been showing through the quotes that have been posted,” Watson said, “that idea of oppressed people not being able to breathe, black people not being able to breathe, and feeling like oppression is this suffocating force, is present throughout history and black history.”

The student side of the committee also launched a Tumblr blog last week called “Suffocating @ NU” where students can post screenshots of offensive comments found on social media. Many posts are screenshots from the location-based, anonymous app Yik Yak. Watson said the Tumblr page receives about four submissions a day.

The committee plans to hold two other events during the month: one that will showcase activists and one for students to share their experiences through art.

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