Chalk for Change
by Jess Sides | published Nov. 10th, 2020
It’s not uncommon to see chalk writings on RIT’s campus; they’re on the ground, the buildings, everywhere. What’s uncommon is the type of writings seen this fall semester. Writings transitioned from the infamous “Bees?” as well as other lighthearted writings such as “good, and you?” to a much more serious tone. Chalk writings in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement are covering campus grounds.
RIT Voices and Chalk the Block
RIT Voices, a club pending approval, hosted a chalk art session in late September to help the RIT community express their feelings toward BLM through art. They are taking initiative to bring light to the movement on campus and help affected students de-stress and express their concerns. Not only that, but they want President Munson to hear their words and their experiences so change in policy on campus may occur.
Olivia Moore, a moderator of RIT Voices and a third year Psychology and Forensic Science student, is one of these people.
“We want you to understand that there is a problem with discrimination on campus and this problem needs to be solved in every way that it can,” she said. “Not just racial discrimination, but religion and disability and things of that nature ... This is bigger than race.”
Moore further explained that it’s all about sending a message and exposing those who are uncomfortable with the movement. She mentioned that as they were chalking the block many students were rude to them.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of students who feel very uncomfortable,” she said. “The same way I felt offended when we were told that we couldn’t draw BLM on the buildings, but there’s 'Bees?' ... written all over the buildings.”
However, Moore also mentioned how many students feel the same way as they do but merely lack the resources or the courage to do something about it themselves. According to her, most students are glad that someone is taking the initiative and standing up for their rights.
RIT Can You Hear Me?
RIT Can You Hear Me is an anonymous Instagram page where students can post about their experiences with discrimination. There are dozens of examples of injustice that students have gone through on campus.
One example mentioned by Moore was a female student’s experience walking home late at night. She was near dorms when a group of white men drove by screaming the ‘N’ word at her.
“It’s disheartening to say the least,” Moore said.
Jemieshaw Pierre-Louis, fourth year Civil Engineering Technology major and the president of the Black Awareness Coordinating Committee (BACC), is working through these problems with the ALANA Collegiate Association and the Board of Trustees.
“We are addressing all the problems we’ve had policy-wise,” she said. “I just want to encourage students to report any discrimination [or] injustice that they’re facing because it will be read and it will be dealt with.”
Importance of Awareness
Pierre-Louis explained that awareness is supposed to spark change among the student body. Since the chalk drawings, she’s already noticed an impact.
“More people are coming to BACC meetings,” she said. “So many non-people-of-color ... asking ‘can I join?’ ... I'm already seeing all these non-people-of-color trying to unite with us.”
She also mentioned how there has been an ongoing fight in the black community for six years regarding the BLM flag being hung on campus. A social media campaign was created to show what this meant to the RIT black community and it gained so much traction that the flag is now being installed in the SAU.
Caitlyn Pope, a fifth year Medical Analytics and Business Management student and moderator of RIT Voices, expressed the importance of BLM’s message and bringing attention to the movement.
“We want to make sure that [BLM] is put into the forefront of people’s minds, not just now but forever,” Pope said. “These aren’t trends for us, these are actual problems and issues that we have to go through every single day.”
“These aren’t trends for us, these are actual problems and issues that we have to go through every single day.”
As Moore explained, if you ignore the problem it allows the mistreatment to continue and grow. When you bring awareness to the problem it shows that it isn’t okay.
“The longer it’s ignored, the bigger the problem becomes,” she said.
“The longer it’s ignored, the bigger the problem becomes."
How to be an Ally
All three women were in agreement regarding what they expect from allies.
“As an ally, speak next to me, not for me,” Moore said. “If I’m saying Black Lives Matter and they aren’t hearing me, let’s say it together so they can hear us both.”
Many people of color feel as if they lack a voice, so it’s important to make sure that their voices are not muted.
Be careful of fake allies. A fake ally, as explained by Pope, is someone who is antagonistic. They are verbally violent toward other people as well as the police in more recent circumstances. This is evident in protests specifically; many “allies” are not supporting BLM for the right reasons, and they aren’t morally aligned with BLM’s values.
In order to be an ally, according to Pope, you have to make space for voices of color in the right way and in the right light.
Also, it’s important to ask questions if you have them so you can understand what they are experiencing and avoid wounding relationships. According to Moore, it’s worse if you don’t ask.
“It’s perfectly fine to want to know what we’re going through,” she said. “Personally, if I can see that you’re coming from a place of sincerity, I'm not going to take offense to it.”
Moore also mentioned her desire to hold a “race summit” — a safe space for all students, not just those of color, to talk about things that are inappropriate or things they have questions about.
“You want to know this information so you don’t offend anybody and that’s something I can respect more than someone who’s just assuming,” Moore said.
This shift in chalk content may come as a shock to students who aren’t exposed to the Black community regularly. However, it’s important to educate yourself on the movement as well as how to be an ally now and in the future.