By Ashlyn Miller
Through a series of six demonstrations held between November 17 and December 1, a self-proclaimed movement called #WeMatterMessiah sparked widespread emotions on campus 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.
“Our focus is to empower minority voices. We wanted to encourage the people who are hurting. We hoped to encourage these minority and marginalized groups and empower those who have that spark in them to speak up for themselves,” said Jamie-Claire Chau, chair of Multicultural Council.
Multicultural Council provided space for open conversation following the results of the 2016 presidential election and out of that dialogue came an idea to engage in discussion with the student body as a whole. Chau approached Scott Hwang, Director of Multicultural Programs, with the hope of advancing the process.
“(Chau) asked what I thought about some type of public demonstration post-election and so we kind of worked through it together. I acted as an advisor, attending meetings and advocating for the group,” said Hwang.
Hwang was able to clarify the college policy and help students move forward while adhering to the current college guidelines that are in place. The student handbook allows specific groups or individuals to present three one-hour demonstrations per calendar year, once they go through proper review by the Dean of Students who checks times, locations and any signage used at the event.
Chau says #WeMatterMessiah movement leaders reflected on and typed up a purpose statement, which then was submitted as a proposal to the Student Affairs office and Kris Hansen-Kieffer, Dean of Students.
“I appreciated the opportunity to meet with the student leaders and really hear their heart and hear why this was so important. I think we had good dialogue, trying to understand their purpose and talking about (if the demonstrations) were the best way to meet that purpose,” said Hansen-Kieffer. “It’s not my role to make a judgement about what it is they want to do, I just need to make sure it fits in with the parameters of our institution.”
Hansen-Kieffer and the students were able to come up with a finalized plan that split two of the three allowed hours into several 15-minute segments each in order to better suit the educational goal of the demonstrations.
“Part of the impact of things like this is sort of the surprise of them. If everyone knows what to expect, it’s different….so we also didn’t publish the dates and times for that reason as well,” said Hansen-Kieffer.
The first set of three demonstrations were silent, with students simply holding signs with messages related to the group they were representing.
“The first three were really just to start the conversation. We weren’t moving, we weren’t being aggressive towards people, but we were making ourselves known in a physical presence,” said Anna Cherry, a leader for the Allies, another campus group participating in the efforts.
Last week’s set of three events featured spoken word poetry, each one bringing to life the voice of a marginalized group on Messiah’s campus—students of color, LGBTQ students, and survivors of sexual assault.
“We chose to focus on three of the groups that students have come to us feeling most affected, said Abigail McBride, leader in the #WeMatterMessiah movement and SAB’s cultural engagement executive.
For the College administrators , working through the proposal process with students helped to provide feedback for progress in the future. Hansen-Kieffer said #WeMatterMessiah made her aware of students’ desire for more formal on-campus programming regarding marginalized groups.
“I’m continuing to hope to get feedback from the students and what can we do as an institution to promote the dialogue. I don’t want to set that agenda. I want help from the students in establishing what those next steps are—sometimes bold moves (like #WeMatterMessiah) are empowering.”
Hwang enjoyed the opportunity to see his students bring attention to an issue that was important to them.
“I was really proud of my students for taking a stand and being in a public arena. It takes a lot of courage to do that amongst your peers. They’re in the midst of students reacting initially and hearing murmurs. It’s a very vulnerable position to be in.”
Chau hopes students reflect on the message of the demonstrations and see it as an invitation, not a lecture or an accusation.
“It’s about all of us. We all need to participate in this conversation. We all have a role we need to play to make a change.”
Don’t miss the second part in this installment of the #WeMatterMessiah demonstration series which will be online tomorrow, December 7.