About 100 students, faculty and staff gathered on the Quad at noon Wednesday for the March for Equality and Inclusive Community. Organized by student members of Classy Leaders Achieving Student Services (C.L.A.S.S.), the march aimed to “unite the campus in equal treatment of all individuals regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation,” according to the event announcement from the group.
With chants of “Let peace live,” “Stop the Hate,” and more, the group made its way around the campus in a peaceful protest that let the campus know that intolerance of any kind would not be accepted. Following the walk, senior Brandford Davis of Providence addressed the crowd in front of the Carothers Library.
“A wise man once said, ‘The only way to fight hate is with love.’ That wise man was MLK, Martin Luther King, Jr. He gave his life for civil rights,” Davis said. “Today we have gathered here for civil issues on campus. Hate crimes have happened on this campus. It is our responsibility; we must be accountable to each other for the individuals on this campus. If we want this to end, if we want everybody to be inclusive, if we want a campus where we can come together and share love, this is where we have to start.”
Davis and fellow senior Devinne Rivard of Pawtucket met with URI President David Dooley during the fall semester to discuss some of the incidents that had occurred on campus, such as racist comments and homophobic slurs that were written on residence hall doors and other buildings.
Dooley sent a letter to the campus community addressing the incidents and making it clear that such behavior was unacceptable and would not be tolerated. Davis said the letter was a strong first step, but it was up to the campus community to ensure that the culture changed for the better on a permanent basis.
“We’ve had people in our organization who were personally affected by the things that have gone on, both racially and with homophobia,” Davis said. “Many people felt something had to be done. A year ago, we had the Stop the Hate rally. It was successful and a lot of people gathered on the Quad. But after that, the next day, things were still going on. We spent time thinking about what else we could do. The school has a motto of Think Big, and we were inspired by that. If we don’t do something now, it’s only going to get worse.”
While the poor weather conditions certainly impacted the turnout, Rivard said it was important to follow through with the march.
“People, when it’s raining, will go to a party. When it’s raining, they’ll go to a fashion show,” Rivard said. “But when it’s raining, they won’t do something for a valuable and very important cause. People asked if we were going to cancel because of the rain. We said, ‘No, absolutely not.’
“No matter what the weather is, people are going to have hate. Whether it is raining, snowing, sunny or your mother is standing there with you, hate will happen. If we had canceled today, it would have given hate a free pass.”
Rivard pointed out that those citizens who were part of the civil rights movement throughout the 1950s and 1960s were sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by dogs.
“The least we had to worry about was rain. For us, rain or shine, this was happening,” Rivard said.
“Those people who didn’t come, tomorrow when they hear people talking about the walk, or they read about how successful it was, they are going to feel disappointed with themselves because they were not able to be there,” he said.
Both were encouraged by those who did come out and march. There was a strong mix of faculty, staff and students in the crowd. Dooley did meet with the students after the walk and praised them for the message they delivered.
“It was really important to see those people who were still willing to come out and stand up for this and back us 100 percent regardless of the circumstances,” Rivard said. “That just gave us an extra push and showed us there are people who truly care about this college and what is going on here.”
Davis said this is just the start of what needs to happen on campus.
“The people who did show up, they showed us that there are students, faculty and staff who are on our side,” Davis said. “These people understand that this campus has the potential to be exactly what we want it to be, which is an accepting and inclusive community. The 100 or so people who did come, they give us hope. Not just for today, for tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.
“What happened today is just a small part of the bigger picture. The people here were pixels, small pieces of it. Eventually we will be able to step back and see the big picture, and man, how beautiful that picture will be.”
Students faculty and staff march around the University of Rhode Island campus Wednesday in support of the March for Equality and an Inclusive Community.
URI President David Dooley addresses the crowd following the march.
Photos by Michael Salerno.