“There’s far too much acceptance for the status quo, acceptance that things cannot be changed,” said Greg Jue, a member of the Asian American Studies Program, as he showed slides of his September trip to the small town that has been dominating the news recently: Jena, Louisiana.
Jue and about twenty others gathered in Crowe Hall on Friday afternoon. Their two-hour discussion about race relations focused on the Jena Six, a group of black teenagers who have been charged with attempted murder for the beating of a white classmate.
On Sept. 20, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 demonstratorsprotested what they saw as unjust and unequal treatment. People traveled from across the country to the small Louisiana town where the alleged crime took place, including Jue and a few others in attendance at the meeting.
“Things like the Jena Six are happening all the time, and there is a possibility of stopping it,” Jue said. “We should be trying to figure out how, but that would require a change in the overall mindsets of people.”
The attendees of Friday’s discussion organized a protest at the Rock on Monday, drawing dozens of additional students.
“I feel that we got a lot of people’s attention,” Medill sophomore Lauren Alexander said. “It was good to see a really diverse group stopping to listen to our message. The point of today was to get the word out and create a starting point for bigger action.”
Critics argue that the charges against the teens were disproportionately harsh and racially motivated. The six boys, all between 15 and 17 years old, were arrested and charged as adults with attempted murder and conspiracy, and faced up to a combined 100 years in jail.
In the months preceding the December attacks, racial tension swelled in Jena after a black student crossed racial bounds and sat under a tree that was considered “whites only” at the local high school. The day after, someone hung three nooses on the tree, an act considered a threat of violence in the region.
On Friday, while talking about what had happened, the group in Crowe covered everything from institutional racism to possible solutions to the issue. However, the shared concern seemed to be what the Jena Six means to Northwestern students and what can prevent issues like this from recurring.
“I feel like I know how important the Jena Six is because of my own personal experiences at this school,” Alexander said. “The racial communities on this campus are all so segregated. You can see this at parties and in who everyone hangs out with. We are self-segregating on this very campus, not just out there in other parts of the world.”
The issue has attracted the attention of national civil rights leaders, such as Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton. It has also dominated the interests of national media outlets with black audiences, like the radio shows of Michael Baisden and Tom Joyner. But larger outlets ignored the events, some said.
“Issues like these have been denied mainstream media coverage until these marches and events were organized. I’m glad I could be a part of it,” said Drew Messinger-Michaels, a junior at Columbia College who was present at the rally in Jena. “People need to get mad about all of these injustices.”
Jue said that instead of just thinking about themselves and their careers, students should mobilize to create significant change in the world outside of campus. The group is now looking to organize discussions, and perhaps bring in speakers on the topic in the near future, Alexander said.
“The fact is this is such a great focal point to organize a movement around, and hopefully this is just a sample of what is to come, with people taking control and seeking action,” said Lauren Villegas, a junior in Weinberg. “I always complain about how apathetic our generation is. So when I see someone taking action, I join them. You have to. Because if you don’t, who is going to?”