WATERVILLE — Hundreds who gathered on the Colby College campus lawn Thursday heard their school president denounce societal attitudes about race that give him, as a white man, privileges he “did not earn.”

College President David Greene was among the crowd protesting a backlash of racially intolerant social media commentary that followed campus demonstrations against racial injustice earlier in the week.

“I walk through TSA lines in airports without being searched. I drive my car without fear of being stopped,” Greene said. “I’m never followed in stores. Cabs stop for me when I hail them.

“I never want to forget that the color of my skin, the size of my wallet, shapes the way I see and I experience the world.”

The midday rally came after a wave of criticism Tuesday and Wednesday following student demonstrations at Colby and elsewhere in the country to protest the shooting deaths of unarmed black men in the U.S., and racial injustice in general.

Early in the week, comments criticizing the protests appeared on Yik Yak, a social media application that lets users anonymously post messages to other users within 10 square miles.

On Thursday, some of the Yik Yak posts were seen printed and taped around the campus. One post on Yik Yak left no written comment but included a cartoon of a police officer and a gun pointed at a monkey.

The social media response prompted Greene and other faculty members Thursday afternoon to condemn the backlash and call for campus conversations on racial issues. The school also plans teach-ins Tuesday, in which students will discuss racial injustice in the classroom; and a dine-in – a meal at which the topic will be discussed.

Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity held several protests earlier in the week over the police-shooting deaths of unarmed black men and other racial and social injustices.

The students organized silent protests, entering buildings wearing signs taped to their shirts referring to an officer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who authorities said accidentally used his handgun instead of his stun gun to shoot Eric Harris.

RECENT SHOOTINGS

Greene also brought up the recent shootings and other racial injustices in his speech.

“I want to be reminded that when one white police officer unloads his gun in the back of an African-American man in South Carolina or in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that we are all culpable for creating a society that thrives on inequity and racial injustice,” Greene said, prompting applause.

“I want to be reminded that I have the luxury of not cautioning my son to fear police while many of my friends live in fear that their sons will one day be the victims of institutionalized violence and bigotry.”

Senior Aquib Yacoob, who attended the gathering, said the presence of faculty addressing the campus showed that students were being heard. “Student input was heard in this,” he said.

“Student input was heard in the creation of a space next week. So I’m very glad to see that happen. I think it’s crucial that student involvement continues to be a part of this conversation.”

Yacoob said he is both “very, very” excited and cautious about a public dialogue planned for Tuesday.

“I’m excited about the teach-in happening on Tuesday, but I’m cautious about whether we’re going to discuss the things that need to be discussed,” he said.

Associate Dean of Students Tashia Bradley told the crowd that those who have been holding the protests and pushing for conversations on race, cultural identity and sexual orientation have given the campus a gift.

She said for some, the teach-in and dine-in will continue conversations they have been having all year, while for others it will bring them into the conversation for the first time.

Senior Tionna Haynes, president of Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity, said that before hearing the speeches, she wasn’t sure what to expect from the faculty.

“I think many of the students are surprised, refreshed and rejuvenated by the fact that they discussed white privilege and called out white students here but not called out in a negative way. They were called out in a socially responsible kind of way and were told it was important to care about this,” she said.

Senior Joseph Whitfield agreed and said he had not expected such a large turnout. “I don’t think any of us were expecting that big of a crowd,” he said.

“They said it’s been something we’ve been talking about all year long, but for us it’s been four years.”

Kaitlin Schroeder can be contacted at 861-9252 or at:

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