A group of some 100 students at Gordon College held a sit-in on campus in response to a racial incident involving a defaced T-shirt, with organizers arguing that not enough is being done to ensure African American students feel safe at the Massachusetts Christian institution.
The student group, All For Reclaiming Our Hamwe and Gordon College Student Association President Shineika Fareus, organized the sit-in protest last week at Frost Hall, which is the administrative building for the Wenham-based higher education institution with over 1,500 students.
The demonstration last Tuesday was sparked by a Nov. 1 incident in which a pro-Black Lives Matter T-shirt with the phrase “Yes they do” on the front was defaced with a racist slur and displayed on a residence hall laundry room table.
AFRO Hamwe President Orlane Destin told The Christian Post that the sit-in went on for 24 hours and was divided into different events during the two days that it was held.
“There was no interference with the college leadership per se in that they did not tell us we had to leave nor did they stop us from pursuing the sit-in,” Destin said.
“The first day, which was Monday, was full of story sharing and calling the administration to action. And the next day was full of prayer but still active protesting in Frost as well as on our social media.”
Destin did not view the defaced T-shirt as an isolated incident, but rather as “a true representation of the injustices and lack of cultural competency that continues to be ignored by President Michael Lindsay, the board [of trustees], and Gordon College’s administration at large.”
“Gordon handles racial issues very poorly, in my opinion. The administration has a habit of wanting to keep racial incidents quiet until students speak up about them,” she contended.
As an example, Destin spoke of another incident from back in August when a Black Lives Matter sign was vandalized so that it read “All Lives Matter.”
“The college assured us that they would investigate it and find out who did it. Yet two months later, the perpetrator remains at large,” she added.
“Gordon's administration is very prideful and doesn't admit when they need help and what they don't know, which makes it very difficult to heal and move toward conciliation.”
Gordon College spokesman Rick Sweeney told CP the school is investigating the incident and that the college’s police department “has involved the local town of Wenham police officials and are handling this as a hate crime.”
He added that the school is also investigating another incident in which someone wrote an anti-Asian message on a whiteboard near an apartment where some Asian students live.
“The investigation is ongoing and will remain so until completed. Rather than set a timetable, our goal is to bring closure on both incidents,” Sweeney said. “We have urged students with any information to contact our chief of police or a staff member in Student Life.”
Regarding the sit-in, Sweeney said that school leaders, including Lindsay, met with organizers. He told CP that the college “wanted to be responsive to student concerns.”
“Even as a Christian campus, Gordon is not immune to the divisions reflected in our society,” Sweeney continued. “These incidents have been upsetting to everyone who studies and works here.”
Sweeney also explained that the Gordon community as a whole — including faculty and staff — is “appalled by any act of racial bigotry or hatred, especially within our community.” He said acts of bigotry and hatred are “completely at odds with the teachings of Christ and our shared expectation to show love and grace to each other and treat all with respect.”
For its part, Gordon College is looking to take active steps in response to the racial incidents, including the creation of a staff position aimed at assisting minority students, the installation of additional surveillance cameras, and making sure diversity and inclusiveness are an integral part of the campus experience.
In a statement, Lindsay called the meeting with the GCSA and Afro-Hamwe “a very good, productive discussion.”
“Students were grateful for the specific steps mentioned below, but they also asked for additional details around the timeline in which we hope to achieve these items,” Lindsay stated. “We walked carefully through each of the items ... and have come to a good, mutual understanding. The student leaders plan to update students accordingly.”