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.
“This is not an organization,” said Multicultural Council Chair Jamie-Claire Chau. “It’s not an event, it’s not anything concrete. We call it a movement. We’re trying to push the campus. To be different. To move.”
The movement began after the election when more people, specifically underrepresented groups, felt unsafe after Donald Trump was selected president-elect. Abigail McBride, SAB’s cultural engagement executive, started a group chat with some students on-campus after the election to talk about their concerns. The conversation eventually turned into an idea for various types of demonstrations.
“It was kind of random just based on people that I knew who were interested,” McBride explained. “Basically some of the groups are Multicultural Council, BSU, LAL, Human Rights Awareness (HRA) with Agape, Messiah College Allies, and we’ve had multiple people from Messiah College Democrats.”
While the voices within the movement come from different groups, their message is the same: we matter.
“We wanted to stand up for minorities’ worth here,” Messiah College Allies leader Anna Cherry said. “And if that’s a little abrasive to some people that’s ok, because that’s how social change happens. It’s a bold stance against a culture that is telling LGBT people that they are not valuable.”
Many who are not part of an underrepresented group stood with those who were during the protests. McBride chose to identify as an ally, which she says is linked to her faith.
“It’s the most spiritual thing I’ve ever done here. I’m a senior here and being at Messiah has really taught me that my faith is inherently linked with social justice. There is no separation there, I don’t get to back out of issues. I’m a Christian, I have to be there. This was one of the first times in my life I’ve truly lived up to that.”
Standing in solidarity with the oppressed is one of the themes of the movement. “You relate to other people with pain and storytelling,” Melissa Veras, who is involved in LAL said. “We’ve been given the platform and we need to make sure our students feel empowered to use it.”
While the demonstrations have empowered students to bring their concerns into a public arena, it has also prompted students to come forward with questions.
“After our first demonstration, a lot of people have sent emails saying ‘I want to join. Can you explain so I can care? How can I care? How can I bring change? How can I make a difference?’” Chau said. “I think it’s good that they reached out,” she added.
On the other hand, students within the movement say they have witnessed others become visibly uncomfortable by the demonstrations. “We want people to say what they really truly think about what we’re doing,” McBride said. “It’s really okay to have a different opinion. The whole point is to open up the conversation.”
“It’s been good for the tables to be kind of turned a little bit and have the majority be a little uncomfortable, because that how a lot of minority students have to feel all of the time and we have to process that and deal with that on a regular basis,” Messiah College Allies leader Sydney Wilcox said.
Despite different reactions to the protests, the feeling of shared community is a sentiment echoed among leaders of the movement. Although the movement is made up of different groups that stand for various issues, each protest ends with the leader calling out “we matter fam,” uniting the group as one.
“These demonstrations are fundamentally an expression of suffering,” McBride explained. “Fundamentally it’s about a culture in which people suffer. This is about building that community. We share it as if it were our own.”
That shared community, in which suffering is acknowledged, is something they want the whole campus to experience – whether a student comes to the table as a majority, a minority, or an ally.
Chau expressed the overarching goal of the movement in one simple sentence: “Our goal is to empower those who have that spark in them to fuel the fire.”
A public forum was held last night to discuss questions about the movement. Look for details of where the movement might be headed in the future in our third installment of the #WeMatterMessiah series tomorrow. You can also read part one of the three part series here.