On April 1, Irina Amouzou, a senior women’s and ethnic studies major, hosted a social justice rally in University Center.
Amouzou felt inspired to create a space for students, staff and faculty to share and call attention to the injustices faced on campus. Speakers included Amouzou, UCCS alum Eugene Johnson, WEST major Taylor Vallance, philosophy major Augustine Stuart and graduate student Flora Jathanna.
“The goal of today’s rally is to hear directly from those experiencing harm at UCCS … and to use the labor of everyone who will be sharing today to create a sense of urgency and actualized progress,” Amouzou said.
Amouzou began with a personal statement on their experience at UCCS. “I was afraid of attending school at Colorado Springs. I knew the visible and invisible monster of white supremacy well by the time I graduated high school, and I thought I would only be getting closer to it. I learned all too quickly the kind of culture UCCS could foster,” they said.
“In my first semester, a white student was trying to defend her use of the N-word at me, reducing me to tears,” Amouzou said. “In my second year, the Black Student Union received emails and threats, both of physical and sexual violence, from anonymous sources.”
In addition to these emails and threats, Amouzou also mentioned the racist stickers that were found on campus last October in addition to the recent harassment of a student on social media by members of Turning Point USA’s UCCS club chapter, “who are notorious for causing harm to others they do not agree with.”
“I have given labor and tears for this institution,” Amouzou said. “I’m 22 years old and I’m walking around the cement blocks of trauma. I’m 22 years old and I know my life has not mattered to those in charge, at least not on paper — only in 30 minute meetings and looks of pity.”
“As a public university, we can change policies to better suit our changing world, and that is only a little but it must be done,” Amouzou concluded.
“[From] an educational standpoint, UCCS is fine, but as a safe environment for people to go and thrive, and to feel safe from their homes away from home, I do not feel comfortable with condoning them,” Johnson said. “I watched for far too long the racism, homophobia, transphobia … and mistreatment of my college colleagues around me.”
“Although I have seen some effort since my departure, as the diversity of members of SGA is growing and the impact of MOSAIC continues to grow everyday [as well], the wait has been too long,” Johnson continued.
“I am tired of the racist and bigoted images on campus being passed off as freedom of speech and expression. I am tired of misogynist actions being passed off as confusion or misunderstandings or microaggressions. Most of all, I’m tired of individuals across the spectrum who are at the brunt of the hate being forced and coerced into [silence].”
Johnson also called Turning Point USA’s harassment vile, offensive and full of hate. “You should no longer have these experiences in a space where you [are supposed to] feel as safe as possible,” he said.
Vallance then discussed their experience with ableism on campus. “I have the privilege of being able to use my legs today, but on a regular basis, I use mobility devices as well as a 504,” Vallance said. “I can tell you that the bare minimum that this campus passes off as ADA accessibility is not enough — the bare minimum is not enough.”
When seeking accessibility accommodations for a class, Vallance explained that they had to complete the course online because the building that it took place in was not accessible to them. “I failed that class,” they said. “I’m coming here to get an education and sometimes not even that is provided to me.”
Vallance also recalled a time when they were stuck in a building and had to call campus police because they did not have their mobility aids. “I was told that I did not think ahead enough, and that I should be aware of my own disability,” they said. “[The police] didn’t know what to do, in fact they laughed at me when they had to help escort me out of the building.”
Stuart stepped up to discuss the importance of unity and direct action. “I grew up, as many of you probably did, being told that protestors were crazy hippies and that they were wasting their time — [that] the way that things changed was if you voted for a candidate who was … not making the world actively worse and occasionally donated pocket change to charity,” Stuart said. “This was propaganda.”
“But you know what,” he continued, “The fact that … propaganda [exists] should actually be encouraging, because here’s the thing: if we didn’t have any power, it wouldn’t need propaganda. If we had no power, [people] would flaunt it over us. The fact that they need propaganda to tell us that we can’t do anything means that we can. When we unite, we scare them.”
Stuart encouraged students to take direct action, which he defined broadly. “There are as many ways [to take direct action] as we are creative, because direct action is an inherently creative act,” he said.
“Direct action could be riots, could be protests, but it could also be anything else that you can put your heart and mind and soul into,” Stuart said. “The direct action that you should take doesn’t necessarily look like the direct action I should take.”
Finally, Jathanna stepped up to the podium to discuss Turning Point USA, explaining that when she found out the group was harassing a student online, she had faith that the university would take action.
“A few weeks later, I understood that [this] was not the case,” Jathanna said. “I had conversations everywhere I could, I tried to better understand why there wasn’t anything that could be done — why there wasn’t a loud, abrasive call to action from the rest of the university … and I got answers, and they were very, very valid answers too.”
“‘We’re understaffed,’” Jathanna recalled from her conversations with other staff and faculty members on campus. “‘We don’t have resources. We’re young.’” However, Jathanna emphasized that the fight for a safer, more accepting campus is not over.
“Another door has opened up,” she said. “Another rally has started. Another protest has changed into another riot that has changed another law that will change millions of lives, and this is where it starts.”