Three weeks after the death of George Floyd — a Black man who died after a police officer kneeled on his neck — the U.S. has seen an uproar in demands for justice for those killed in police custody.
After two weeks of peaceful protests and demonstrations across the country, including Utah, Westminster College’s administration and ASW have responded to the unrest — offering support for Black lives to address injustice.
President Beth Dobkin sent an email to students June 1, addressing reactions on the death of Floyd. While everyone has experienced the restriction of movement during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dobkin said that fear of movement is nothing new to the Black community.
“Many of us may have felt fearful, knowing that being in public spaces could cost us our health, and possibly our lives,” Dobkin wrote. “But what if we experienced fear every day, knowing that the very structures and policies ostensibly created to protect us may, in fact, kill us?”
The systemic racism seen in Floyd’s death, while new to those in the white majority, is “one in a chain of events” for others, according to Dobkin.
Dobkin’s email comes just two days after a peaceful protest in Salt Lake City turned violent, which prompted Mayor Erin Mendenhall to issue a citywide curfew in response. The president said the state can continue to see outrage until public reactions turn to address systemic injustices.
“We all may be stressed right now,” Dobkin said. “Fearful for our health, safety, and security, but the impact of that stress disproportionately affects Black people. Once we behave as if Black lives matter, all lives will matter more.”
Student government leaders responded to the ongoing protests and national outrage nearly a week later on June 7, calling on students to reach a “new normal” — one that consists of increased inclusivity among all student populations.
“We, the Westminster community, need to keep striving for a “new normal”, one that is more community-based and inclusive of all populations,” said Obaid Barakzai, ASW president, in an email sent out to students. “All lives can not matter until Black lives Matter! No justice, no peace.”
Barakzai said he felt empowered to send an email to the student body, creating a platform for students to present their concerns.
“Moving forward, we have got a lot of work to do,” Barakzai said in an interview with The Forum. “The things [students] want to see happening next year, they are going to be able to.”
ASW Vice President Daud Mumin told The Forum he commended the administration for its response to the amplifying dissatisfaction toward racial injustices across the country.
“Her leadership is very collaborative, it’s something that allows us to look at the problems together,” Mumin said.
Both Barakzai and Mumin ran on campaign platforms for ASW focused on diversity and inclusion, which they say will be implemented in the Fall to address these injustices — especially those being exposed under the national spotlight.
Mumin has been active on Twitter, acting as a community resource to educate users on the social media platform. He’s also been participating in several protests and demonstrations in Utah, noting the importance to make demands and stand behind his community.
Barakzai said he has also attended protests in light of the Black Lives Matter movement. Overall, he said he wants to use the momentum to be a platform for students — uplifting their concerns so they can be addressed.
“Coming together as a community and to use the platform like the student government is important to stand in solidarity with those people who have been affected by these heinous instances,” Barakzai said.
This will include implementing campus-wide conversations in the Fall with every student population — including athletics, people of color, religious groups and other identities.
“[We want] to make Westminster and the ASW community a very inclusive one,” Barakzai said. “So that no one really feels that someone is racist against the person or feels discrimination because we believe Westmisnter does not tolerate […] any form of discrimination on campus.”