(Credit: Megan Zendek/Fourth Estate)
“From George Mason to Mizzou,” black students advocate for change
A group of students, operating under the name Concerned Mason Students, is protesting alleged racial inequalities on campus.
The name is a reference to a nationwide movement that began at the University of Missouri called Concerned Student 1950, an activist group that fought against institutional racism at the school. The Mason organization has released a list of demands in hopes of addressing similar race issues at this school. The group has also set up a meeting with university administration, scheduled for tomorrow.
Kalia Harris, a senior at Mason who is one of the leaders of Concerned Mason Students, said the movement originated after a racist drawing was found in Eisenhower residence hall on Nov. 12. The next day, the university administration called for an emergency meeting with student leaders from black and African student organizations to discuss the incident and how to prevent similar ones in the future.
“We really came out of the meeting noticing that the university leadership has a strong disconnect with the black community and its students,” Harris said. “A lot of the issues that we had put forward on the table are issues that black students at Mason have been talking about for years and years.” Harris said they discussed situations where students encountered racism from peers, resident advisors and professors.
The evening after the meeting, which took place Nov. 13, the group decided to interrupt the men’s basketball team’s inaugural game of the season against Colgate. A video of black students, led by Harris, chanting, “From George Mason to Mizzou — it is on our campus, too!” and “Black lives matter!” at EagleBank Arena was uploaded to YouTube and has approximately 1,600 views as of press time.
“That was when we started building our community and kind of coming up with this identity of Concerned Mason Students and seeing that there are more people invested in this than just black students on campus,” Harris said about the event at the basketball game. “You saw people of all different backgrounds coming out to stand in solidarity with us. It’s not just a black issue, it’s a Mason issue.”
On Dec. 17, the last day of the fall semester, Concerned Mason Students published a list of demands on an open Google Document, concluding the petition with a request to meet with administration during the first week of spring semester classes. According to Harris, the meeting is to take place on Jan. 22.
In an email about the movement and its demands, President Ángel Cabrera wrote, “We have received the list from Concerned Mason Students and we are scheduling a meeting in the next week [the week of Jan. 18-22] to discuss several of the issues that were raised. We all share the same goal of creating and sustaining a campus environment that makes clear and realizes our values of diversity, inclusion, and racial equity.”
Rose Pascarell, vice president of University Life, and Julian Williams, vice president of Compliance, Diversity, and Ethics, could not be reached for comment.
To come up with the demands of the petition, Harris said she reached out to Concerned Student movements across the country, including those at Towson University, the University of Virginia and the University of Missouri, even speaking to Jonathan Butler, a graduate student at Missouri who led a hunger strike as part of the protests.
Harris said the group also surveyed students around campus and got input from other student organizations as well.
GMU Student Power, an organization that promotes student advocacy and activism, is supporting Concerned Mason Students in these efforts.
“A lot of our members were involved in those conversations [about race], and most of them are actually non-black students from Student Power who attended those meetings as allies to see how we can figure out how to support as best as possible,” Samantha Parsons, president of GMU Student Power and a senior conflict analysis and resolution major, said.
On moving forward with the movement during the spring semester, Harris praised the support and cooperation coming from the school’s faculty and administration, especially from the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Multicultural Education (ODIME).
“None of this would have been possible if Mason wasn’t a place where change was possible to be made … we all have a love for Mason,” Harris said. “We don’t want to tear down our campus, we want to build it up stronger than it was when we got here. We’re not anti-Mason; we’re pro-Mason.”
Harris said she is looking forward to meeting with administration and is glad they acknowledged the work that went into drafting the demands.
“I feel very hopeful about this. They seemed very open to what we were saying; they even said that,” Harris said. “I am hoping we are able to all come in with open minds and hearts.”