We support Ariyana Smith and her protest. More than that, we thank her for reiterating to the Knox community that the issues of Ferguson extend far beyond its city limits. We stand by Ariyana because she did exactly what Knox encourages us to do. She was active and made a motion to support a movement she deemed ethically and morally upstanding.
Ariyana could not have predicted exactly what would come of her protest, but it is safe to say from interviews that she expected more from Knox. It seems that the school has been more concerned with damage control rather than addressing the protest itself after Ariyana’s suspension went viral. To focus on her short delay and decision not to play in the basketball game in Clayton, Mo. would be a mistake.
While it is not surprising that Knox is walking on eggshells in the wake of being brought into media attention yet again, it has come as a bit of a shock to us that the school has avoided using Ariyana’s name – both in the open forum and in the two letters that have been distributed to the campus via email. Instead references to “the student” or “the athlete” read more like an incident report than a statement affirming her for her actions. We are forced to question the legitimacy of the “support” given by the administration and the athletic department when they cannot even name the student they believe is carrying on Knox’s tradition of free speech and drawing attention to the moral issues present in culture.
Knox was founded by abolitionists and students are frequently reminded of its ties to Abraham Lincoln and the support he received while arguing for the end to slavery while on campus for the Lincoln-Douglas debate. Even for those unhappy with how Ariyana chose to protest, it is undeniable that her action was intended to draw attention to the reality of racial inequality in America. While the events of Ferguson and subsequent examples of unarmed black Americans being killed by state officials (the “legal” killing of Eric Garner being the first egregious example to come to mind) offer very different challenges than overturning slavery, it is clear that the modern day struggle is inherently linked to the same problems of inequality and oppression that the founders of Knox were so concerned with.
We view Ariyana’s actions for what they were: civil disobedience with the clear goal of drawing attention to the social justice issues surrounding the killing of Mike Brown. To that end, we take issue with Knox’s focus on explaining the one-day suspension and subsequent reversal. The explanation offered is weak on its surface, but the real issue is that Knox has not done enough to talk and organize in the wake of Ferguson. As Ariyana told the Register Mail, “I laid down because I felt like the people around me weren’t listening.” We are well aware of the school’s desire to clarify the situation, especially in the wake of the inaccurate BuzzFeed community post, but we can’t help but feel that the school still is not listening.
Ariyana’s protest and the subsequent reaction from the administration and community bring to mind last year’s Walkout for many apt reasons. The message students are trying to send the administration is not one of contempt for the institution but rather the need for constant reevaluation and improvement. Racism is not dead, and that extends to both the institutional structure and personal interactions on Knox’s campus. We commend the President’s Council for holding an open dialogue about the issues surrounding the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner killing and how it has effected the community personally, but this is just a start.
The dialogue surrounding Ferguson and racial inequality in America must continue. As pointed out last year, the Black Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies are far too small and do not have adequate resources to support the type of discussions that the community needs to be having. To that end, it is imperative that the administration work with the resources available – be it adding new curriculum, creating spaces dedicated to fighting inequality at Knox and at large or providing workshops to teach students how to approach race, gender and class issues – in order to promote social justice and understanding on the school’s campus. We see the need to capitalize on Ariyana’s protest by continuing the crucial self-reflection necessary to make both Knox and the world at large better places to live.
The recent events do not need to create an “us against them” mentality. Rather we find it crucial to understand that deliberate and non-aggressive forms of protest are meant to spark discussion and social change. We will be attending the next open forum upon our return to campus, and we would like to see the rest of the student body there with ideas as to how Knox can continue to change lives.