The Torch

The True Cost of Student Activism

Garrett Downs, Contributing Writer

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Claire Robinson pushed open the door to room 305 in St. John Hall and moved through the desks of the half-full room with a graceful familiarity.

This was not their first time leading a discussion, and they wasted no time with an introduction as a leader of Students of Consciousness and firing up the presentation. Robinson is also a master of clickbait.

Spectrum and Students of Consciousness (SOC), organizations that seek to represent marginalized students on campus — from the LGBTQ+ community and students of color, respectively — co-hosted an event entitled “Is Asexuality Real?” This turned out not to be the case.

“Asexuality is real, we’re not talking about or tolerating the idea that it is not today, I am asexual myself,” Robinson said in the opening remarks.

“The flyer was clickbait,” Robinson continued with a smile and some laughs from the audience. “This event is really about mental health.”

Usually portrayed as strong and unwavering, some student activists on St. John’s campus have a hidden struggle; that is, the struggle to be happy and confident when the mission of your life has been to stand up and borrow everyone else’s burdens.

Andres Hernandez, the vice president of the Latin American Student Organization, more commonly known as L.A.S.O., spoke about the pain of his voice falling on deaf ears.

“University leadership didn’t care about this work that I put in,” Hernandez said. “I wanted to go to grad school, but now this has put me in a place where I don’t feel like I can. I’m too exhausted.”

Hernandez was not alone in being exhausted. Former president of Spectrum, Amber Reese, spoke at length about why she chose to leave the organization, saying that she began to feel marginalized within it.

“The main reason I choose to leave is because Spectrum was becoming dominated by white LGBTQ+ individuals and I was feeling marginalized by an organization that I was supposed to be representing,” Reese said. “I quit being president of Spectrum because it was no longer fulfilling me. I was doing all the work, and I got tired. And this is an organization that I still want to succeed.”

The current president, Sam Scala, is not much better off.

“This has been the worst year of my life,” Scala said, shrugging before continuing. “I’m at a loss for words, there’s not a lot left in me.”

For Scala and the other organizers in the room, much of the last year has consisted of disappointment after disappointment. After racially charged incidents happened on campus last year, SOC made a list of demands and presented them to administration in an open event.

Spectrum has faced a similar struggle. Following an alleged incident of a sexual nature involving a student on campus last year, who is a member of Spectrum, the organization’s representatives said they were hopeful when the Title IX office took the case. But they too ended up dissatisfied.

They, like SOC, responded by making demands at a public demonstration in October in which students marched from the D’Angelo Center before attempting to enter Newman Hall, where University President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw’s office sits. The doors to the building were locked by public safety.

Despite their rejections, most in the room said they didn’t have any intentions of stepping back. Spectrum is finding hope in their new advisor.

“Matt Pucciarelli has been the best,” Scala said about their organization. “He’s one of the only open administrators on campus and has been so helpful, but the University works slow.”

Robinson, despite exhaustion and depression, hopes to continue working before graduating in the spring so that their work will have a takeaway.

“I hope people know that this environment makes marginalized people sick and we must take care of each other and that St. John’s must prepare to respond to the demands of its most marginalized communities,” she said.

 

Editor’s Note: The article has been updated as of 9:00 a.m. March 4, 2019 to generalize the Title IX case. Updates were also made at 4 p.m. on March 1, 2019 to properly use Claire Robinson and Sam Scala’s chosen pronouns. Context has also been added to Amber Reese’s reasoning for leaving Spectrum. The Torch apologizes as it is not our intention to publish a term that is offensive to the LGBTQ+ community at SJU.

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The True Cost of Student Activism