In a series of six demonstrations held between November 17 and December 1, a self-proclaimed movement called #WeMatterMessiah sparked widespread emotions after a tumultuous election.
The movement is under direction of the Multicultural Council which is made up of leaders from African Student Union (ASU), Asian Student Association (ASA), Black Student Union (BSU), International Student Association/Missionary Kids (ISA/MuKappa), and La Alianza Latina (LAL). Along with Multicultural Council, several other student leaders—including representatives from the Allies and SAB– have supported the movement.
On Tuesday night, the movement held an open council discussion to hear from students. One question voiced at the discussion was “Where do we go from here?” A student panel of #WeMatterMessiah movement leaders including Jamie-Claire Chau, Abigail McBride, Melissa Veras and Carly Laird worked to address this looming question.
“I can’t listen to those stories and not do anything about it,” Chau said. “I believe that we’re called to love others. How can you love others if you don’t know other people?”
Student panelists identified learning about the people around you as the first step to action. Other members of the movement passed around papers with a list of resources to learn more about racial injustice, LGBTQ+ injustice and sexual violence and abuse.
“The more we understand these issues, these groups of peoples, these communities that are hurting, the more we can’t help but love them,” Chau continued. “Our hope for next semester is eventually this learning will turn into action.”
The suggested steps for future action take many forms. The paper recommends becoming involved with Human Rights Awareness, Multicultural Council, International Justice Mission (IJM) and Messiah College Allies.
“If you want to get involved there are four of us here you can talk to,” Laird said. “Look for us walking around campus, look for other people you’ve seen (at the demonstrations).”
Other suggestions from many of the panelists included starting conversations with friends, professors and family.
“I personally would like to see faculty members and professors step up and address these issues in class,” Veras said.
Beyond that, the panelists suggested volunteering with places like YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, bcmPEACE, LGBT Center of Central PA and the Islamic Society of Greater Harrisburg.
There were also suggestions for more widespread institutional and policy changes. Veras suggested more institutional programming for minority students.
“As a minority student myself had I not had faculty members like Scott (Hwang), I would not be here today,” she said. “If we don’t have that programming we’re going to continue to have students slip through the cracks. There’s a need for that.”
Chau mentioned recruiting and supporting more faculty and staff members of color. She also suggested creating a required course that discusses broader issues of diversity, oppression and inclusivity.
Provost Randall Basinger said Messiah will continue its dedication to hiring faculty and staff from various backgrounds. “Messiah has had an ongoing commitment to hire faculty from diverse backgrounds. This is tied to Messiah’s commitment educational excellence students and reconciliation in Church and society.”
Laird also had a suggestion for change, calling for a mandatory inclusivity training for all students instead of just student leaders.
“I think we’re not saying Messiah’s a terrible place,” Chau explained. “We’re just saying look how great we could be…. How much more ‘Messiahlike’ we could actually be.”
Dean of Students Kris Hansen-Kieffer attended the discussion and expressed excitement to work further with the students.
“I think that the student panelists said a lot of foundational ideas, so I’m personally looking forward to meeting with them,” Hansen-Kieffer said.
Director of Student Involvement and Leadership Programs Kevin Villegas expressed similar views. “I definitely, as an administrator, want to see them be successful in what they’re wanting to accomplish and I think they’ve already had a measure of success. People are talking about it. For the most part, I think they’ve received a lot of positive support and encouragement from our student body.”
As our campus moves forward, there are resources available for students seeking answers to difficult questions or ways to become involved. The Engle Center, Director of the Agape Center Ashley Sheaffer, Project Coordinator Hannah McBride, Professor of Anthropology Janell Paris, Director of Multicultural Programs Scott Hwang and Hansen-Kieffer are all resources available to students.
“I’m always open to have conversations with anyone about any of these topics even if you disagree with them,” Hwang said. “I would love to just sit down and talk about these things.”
Although the conversation may be difficult to start, it doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.
“It might feel uncomfortable for some, but these are conversations we need to be having, and I’m grateful that the students are… because this is work on their part too. To get together, to coordinate, to make the signs, to put themselves out there like this it’s risky. But I’m grateful that they did it.”