×
×
homepage logo

WSU contingent says civil rights fight continues, issues persist at university

By Tim Vandenack Standard-Examiner - | Jun 11, 2021
1 / 4

Nailah Mansa addresses a ceremony on the Weber State University campus in Ogden on Thursday, June 10, 2021, to kick off the start of Juneteenth activities in Northern Utah. Behind her from left, holding the Juneteenth flag, are WSU students Demitrius Sanders, Terri Hughes and Shawnica Sanders.

2 / 4

Nailah Mansa addresses a ceremony on the Weber State University campus in Ogden on Thursday, June 10, 2021, to kick off the start of Juneteenth activities in Northern Utah. Behind her from left, are WSU students Demitrius Sanders, Terri Hughes and Shawnica Sanders.

3 / 4

Nailah Mansa addresses a ceremony on the Weber State University campus in Ogden on Thursday, June 10, 2021, to kick off the start of Juneteenth activities in Northern Utah. Behind her from left, are WSU students Demitrius Sanders, Terri Hughes and Shawnica Sanders.

4 / 4

Nailah Mansa addresses a ceremony on the Weber State University campus in Ogden on Thursday, June 10, 2021, to kick off the start of Juneteenth activities in Northern Utah. Behind her from left, holding the Juneteenth flag, are WSU students Demitrius Sanders, Terri Hughes and Shawnica Sanders.

OGDEN — Miscommunication prevented what was supposed to be the raising of a flag on Thursday to kick off activities to mark Juneteenth in Northern Utah.

Participants in the ceremony on the Weber State University campus, though, offered a strong message — that the fight for civil rights for people of color continues. The student-led participants — part of what they dub the Black at Weber movement, created to call attention to the racial injustices they say they face — also reiterated a strong critique of the university some have voiced previously.

“The issue is there is just a lot of exclusion. There is a lot of injustice, a lot of unfairness and a lot of blatant disrespect,” said Terri Hughes, president of the Weber State chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a junior at the college. “It’s a very uncomfortable message, but it’s a message that needs to be heard.”

Thursday’s event was meant to be a flag-raising ceremony to launch a series of activities scheduled through June 20 to mark Juneteenth. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, more specifically the day, June 19, 1865, when a Union Army contingent informed a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. However, a mix-up over who was supposed to supply the flag — student participants thought the university would bring one — prevented the actual raising of the Juneteenth banner. Instead, Hughes and the other student participants held a flag aloft, one of their own.

“Today we intended to raise a flag. But our sponsors did not provide us with one. Luckily we brought our own in preparation,” said Nailah Mansa, a Weber State graduate who serves as advisor to the students involved in the Black at Weber movement.

In addressing the Juneteenth message, Mansa, the main speaker Thursday, said the June 19, 1865, declaration to the Texas slaves that they were free didn’t end the struggle among Blacks for a place in society, against racism and discrimination. The crowd at the event, held at an outside plaza in Wildcat Village, where WSU dormitories are located, numbered around 20 and included WSU President Brad Mortensen.

Rather than “true freedom,” Mansa said, Black people have continued to experience a measure of mental, emotional and, for some, even physical enslavement.

Though Juneteenth is a time to honor predecessors and forebears involved in the civil right struggle, “we understand that the work, that the fight isn’t over,” she said. “That unfortunately as we stand up here today at Weber State University, Black students in this country still experience racism at institutions that were never set up for them to succeed.”

Students of color, she went on, face a range of obstacles in the university setting. “Black students and brown students still experience subpar conditions in the classroom, in the dormitory, while walking around on campus. Black students still experience trauma, disrespect, mistrust and the all-too-often feeling of being simply free-ish, kind of, which is not enough, which is unacceptable,” she said.

She also sent a message to those who would support people of color in the fight for civil rights.

“If you are not doing anything to make changes so that the lives of Black and brown people can be improved, then you have to check yourself, you have to check your privilege,” she said. “You have to check your words and your actions and, more importantly, your heart and your soul. Because it’s not enough to shake your heads, to nod, to agree, to show up sometimes at some things and say stuff that kind of sounds like you support us. Put your money where your mouth is.”

Some of the participants Thursday also took part in a meeting last April on the Weber State University campus, when they recounted the injustices and discrimination they say they face on the campus. Shawnica Sanders, who heads up Black Scholars United at the school, was among them, and she alluded to the challenges students of color face.

“As we all look and we embark, we all sometimes have to make diamonds out of dust and I think at Weber State University, Black at Weber has made a lot of diamonds out of a very, very dusty path that we continue to walk down,” she said.

Before Thursday’s event, Mortensen said the debate over the last year across the country about racism that sprang, in part, from the George Floyd killing by a Minneapolis police officer underscores the significance of marking Juneteenth. “It highlights the ongoing struggle we have of inclusion and equity in society,” he said.

In response to some of the critical comments Thursday, Allison Hess, a university spokesperson, said Weber State representatives are aware of the concerns.

“We want every student to feel welcome and included, but acknowledge there is room for improvement,” she said in a statement. “We will continue to offer and expand programs that support diversity, equity and inclusion. We will also continue to host conversations and forums to hear and address the experiences of all students. Weber State is a place for open dialogue even when the message is that the university has fallen short for some and needs to assess and do better.”

She said the mixup over the Juneteenth flag stemmed from miscommunication.

The university “provided the place, the pole and the podium in order to host a successful event” and presumed event organizers would supply the flag, she said. “We are very sorry that a miscommunication marred what was planned as a moment of unity for the entire community.”

Among Juneteenth activities in Northern Utah are a “State of Black Utah” town hall meeting on Friday at the Weber State campus in Layton. Music and other activities will be held on June 19 from noon to 9 p.m. at the Ogden Amphitheater and will continue at the location on June 20 from noon to 8 p.m. More details are at weber.edu/JUNETEENTH.

Newsletter

Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)