Student led “National Day of Action” against racism and student debt named divestment from private prisons among list of demands

April 14, 2016
Mashaun D. Simon
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Student leaders across the country are holding localized demonstrations specific to their campus as part of a "National Day of Action" today.
Organized by the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) in partnership with #MillionStudentMarch, a student movement created to respond to the education crisis in America, their mission is ending campus racism and student debt.
According to Tatyana Atkinson, one of the national BLC organizers, the joint action is the first of its kind for BLC, the collective of student leaders committed to assisting student campus leaders in fighting racism and systematic injustices.
"Million Student March and BLC both wanted to work together. Initially we were asked to join them in an anti-Trump action, but we wanted the action to be about more than just anti-Trump," the John Carroll University student told NBCBLK.
BLC was responsible for two other "days of action" back in November. Atkinson believes it is imperative that student leaders mobilize demonstrations that are specific to their individual campuses.
"Typically, we know certain institutions react in certain ways based upon their track records over the past year," she said. "One action, designed for every campus is impossible. The idea is to do what makes sense - what's best for their campuses. BLC is focused on helping each individual campus determine what will work and how."
When she got involved with BLC, Atkinson's first priority was to remind other BLC leaders that the needs of black students were not the same across campuses. Many of the leaders involved were from campuses where the black student population was much larger.
"Things were already autonomous, but my coming onboard helped in bringing different perspectives and different ideas of what would work on each campus," she said. "A walk-out at a school like Yale or Mizzou would not have the same impact on a campus like mine when there may be less than 10 black students in a given class."
The groups have very specific demands on the agenda:
  • Tuition-free public college for all black students and indigenous students of color
  • Cancellation of ALL student debt for black students and all indigenous students of color
  • $15 minimum wage for ALL campus workers,
  • Divestment from private prisons by ALL colleges and universities.
Many of Wednesday's demands are a continuation of the #MillionStudentMarch November 2015 marches that reached from the University of California-Santa Barbara to the University of Pennsylvania.
Divestment is BLC's major focus and largest priority. Atkinson said they picked up on the relationship between colleges and universities and big banks from the research of students in some of their local chapters.
Atkinson highlights the success of the Black Student Union at California State University, Los Angeles. There the system that oversees the school divested about $30 million dollars in holdings from private prisons.
"A lot of students were learning that their schools bank with institutions that give a lot of money to private prisons," she said. "Many were asking themselves, 'how can we be here and support a system that is constantly hurting black people?' We want them to divest because the institution cannot effectively call itself supporting me and also be invested in a system that is hurting the black community at large."
In addition, some students have learned that much of the furniture being used on their campuses is being produced through prison labor, and that Aramark, one of the largest providers of food to school campuses is also one of the largest providers of food services to prisons in our country.
For Wednesday's Day of Action, graduate students at the University of Kentucky plan to wear solidarity t-shirts all over campus. The t-shirts are designed to bring awareness to #UKCalltoAction, a campus movement led by the University of Kentucky Black Graduate and Professional Student Association (UKBGPSA).
A major goal of UKBGPSA is to be an advocate for Black student voices on campus, Erica Littlejohn and Eseosa Ighodaro, president and vice president of the organization told NBCBLK via email.
Since July 2015 they have worked to highlight the racial climate concerns of Black students. Some of their efforts have included writing an open letter to UK senior administration (200+ signatories), publishing a list of demands, and hosting a town hall event.
Wednesday's Day of Action is just one step in their overall fight, said Atkinson.
"Our hopes and expectations after Wednesday are that we get the visibility we need," she said. "We don't think that one day of action is going to change any of this stuff, but we are not quitting."