Demonstration at day of dialogue interrupts keynote speaker

Students holding signs filed into the gym during the keynote speaker, Vernon Wall. Protestors then asked the audience to stand up in support. SAM CARAVANA / THE DEPAUW

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A congregation of over 40 students dressed in black and holding signs held a silent demonstration during the speech of DePauw Dialogue’s keynote speaker Wednesday morning.

Social rights activist, author and educator, Vernon Wall, was just under 40 minutes into his keynote address to DePauw students, faculty and staff, when the students walked into the Neal Fieldhouse, holding signs and standing in silence.

Some of the students carried signs that had various phrases on them. One read, “DePauw. Assimilation is Not the Answer! 4 International Students” and “DePauw = Unsafe #TiredBlackWoman.”

The opening of the third DePauw Dialogue was kicked off by Vice President of Academic Affairs, Anne Harris. “If you are here, you are contributing,” Harris said.

When Wall took the stage, he began with light anecdotes of his childhood and broke the audience up, asking people to find someone they did not know, talk to them, and then answer the question “What makes you unique?” and to talk about an experience when they were marginalized.

Wall began to discuss his seven concepts for creating a more inclusive and caring community. He had only made it to his first point, “Individual Identity and Group Membership,” when student activists silently lined the bleachers and held up signs.

“I knew that there could be something,” Wall said of the demonstration. He was not formally informed about the demonstration before it happened.

“The visual that happened here was much more than what I would have been able to do than being on stage and speaking, and I think that’s powerful,” said Wall. “The best thing that can happen in a room is what happened here.”

When Wall pointed out the signs and activists during his presentation, some in the audience began to clap. Senior Penelope Ramirez spoke to the audience, saying, “This is not a show, do not clap for us, that’s patronizing.”

Senior Paris Murray went to the side of the stage and asked Wall for his microphone. “We are not supposed to be clapped at because we are peaceful and doing this the ‘right way”,” said Murray.

The keynote speech was ended by the audience being encouraged to physically stand with the protesters. “This is not enough,” Wall said, and encouraged those in attendance to take a more active role in campus inclusion. Wall released attendees to go to their breakout sessions early to discuss the events that took place.

Renee Madison, senior advisor to the president for diversity and compliance, had mixed feelings about the demonstration. “There are so many people on campus who worked so hard, and the effort that it takes to make this happen is tremendous, so I wouldn’t characterize it as disappointed and I think about all of the effort that goes into this and making sure that that’s valued,” said Madison,But I also believe very strongly that it was a powerful, important moment on our campus.”

Some attendees felt Wall drew attention to the situation in an appropriate manner. “I thought the keynote speaker handled it beautifully,” said DePauw University President, Mark McCoy. “He paid attention to their concerns, and the history of protest on college campuses is long and powerful, and I think that people should feel free to express their opinions at every opportunity.”

First-year Justin Collado posted a #DearDePauw message on his Facebook page after the keynote ended. “We are here, as a community, to make a change and see a difference on this campus. We will not be looked as a joke,” Collado wrote.

Some students agreed with Ramirez when she said the audience clapping was ill-advised. “I think the intention was to visualize the issues on campus, but when the clapping started I feel like the protest took one step forward and two step backwards and I agreed with the person who said that’s patronizing because it is,” said junior Kendall Brewer, “It made me feel sad.”

Senior Justine Clarke said she understood the thoughts behind hosting a demonstration during DePauw Dialogue, but wanted to recognize that DePauw Dialogue was first proposed as an action by students. “It feels like we asked for something and didn’t even give it time to pilot it. We haven’t given it time to take affect,” Clarke said.

Following the breakout sessions, student activists regrouped at the Greene Center for Performing Arts at 11:30 a.m. before marching across campus. The group chanted as they walked through the buildings serving lunch to DePauw Dialogue attendees.

The student activists started at the Neal Fieldhouse before heading to the Percy L. Julian Science and Mathematics Center and finally the temporary dining hall located in the Inn at DePauw.

Activists held signs and chanted “No justice, no, peace”  and “Ain't no power like the power of the people, ‘cause the power of the people don't stop.”

The activists ended their march at the former Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, now the temporary location of the Dorothy Brown House and the Association of African American Students house.

No students participating in this demonstration agreed to comment to The DePauw.