After Isaac Coutier ’22 and Aidan Lloyd ’24, student leaders of Oles Against Inequality (OAI), President David Anderson ’74 and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Bruce King spoke at the “7 Feet for 7 Shots” march at Klein Field on Friday, Sept. 4, members of the Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE) took the microphone and spoke against St. Olaf administration’s influence on the event and failure to address institutionalized racism on campus. The planned march around campus followed soon after, while some students walked out prior to marching.
The event came as part of St. Olaf’s fall reopening, a semester shaped by COVID-19 and abhorrent American race relations.
Lloyd, the organizer of the march and founder of OAI, recalls the moment that served as his inspiration for “7 Feet for 7 Shots.” He remembers a teary-eyed breakdown in his car on Aug. 23 after news about Jacob Blake hit social media. Blake, a resident of Kenosha, WI, was shot in the back seven times by police officers soon after arriving on scene to break up a fight.
After hearing the news of Blake and the unjust actions of the Kenosha police, yet not seeing any campus acknowledgement of the tragedy, Lloyd was inspired to rally students together and begin the conversation himself.
The “7 Feet for 7 Shots” march called upon all Oles to focus their attention on institutional violence and racism faced by BIPOC communities and to stand in a moment of solidarity with their Black classmates. The event was funded in part by the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion and supported by the St. Olaf administration.
Lloyd clarified in an interview how the name of the march emphasizes the importance of maintaining six feet of social distance, while also poetically acknowledging how students of color have to take that extra step—seven feet—for the same amount of self-preservation.
The organizers spread the word of the event via social media with two fliers. One listed the student organizers’ demands, such as hiring more BIPOC faculty, a curriculum assessment and a more proactive administrative response to social injustices. The second flier listed guidelines for the event, such as limiting only the first 250 students to sit on the stadium bleachers for proper social distancing. The second flier also stated it would be livestreamed by St. Olaf’s Broadcast Media for those who were unable to attend in person.
“7 Feet for 7 Shots” attracted the majority of the student body—as soon as the 250 slots were filled, students surrounded the perimeter of the stadium. The event opened with assistant professor of music Tesfa Wondemagegnehu leading the crowd in singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” identified as the Black national anthem.
Coutier then led a prayer in which he acknowledged Black victims of gun violence.
“I am tired of turning on the news and being bombarded with reports of slain men who look exactly like me,” Coutier said in his address following the prayer.
Bruce King, newly appointed Vice President for Equity and Inclusion, gave a speech after Coutier, directed towards students. King briefly commented on a student’s sign that included a photo of King with the word “missing” across the top. King responded that in order to be missing, people need to be looking for him, suggesting students haven’t sought him out.
Soon after King turned his focus on who was there and who wasn’t. King questioned the presence of the Student Government Association (SGA), asking where they were. Across the football field shouts were heard, as SGA President Melie Ekunno ’21 stood on a bench and chanted, “I am right here,” with other voices joining her call.
King did not acknowledge the shouts, and he continued by urging the audience to focus on who is here and what they can do together.
“I am committed to making this a movement, not a moment,” King said.
President David Anderson followed King and started his speech by stating that he is not typically one to talk about himself. He then spoke on how his views on racism have been impacted after having biracial grandchildren. He ensured those in attendance that he cares for each and every Ole the same way he does his grandchildren, regardless of color.
“Black Lives Matter,” Anderson said, later adding an, “I see you.”
Lloyd closed the demonstration with a speech thanking King, Anderson, Director of the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion María C. Pabón, the football team and OAI for the continued cooperation organizing the speeches and subsequent march.
“This event is not a Kumbayah and ‘woo we ended racism’, this is only the beginning,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd closed by emphasizing that actual change can only happen if we head to the polls and continue to foster healthy discussion.
OAI intended to start the march after Lloyd’s conclusion, but as students waited for the queue to leave, Joshua Wyatt ’21 took the microphone and began to speak. Wyatt, an executive member of CUBE, began by accusing the administration of censoring the event and enacting civil racism onto OAI and other BIPOC organizations who wish to protest. Wyatt concluded their speech by criticizing Ole culture.
“You came here thinking this was it, this was change. But no one is asking the questions,” Wyatt said. “We’re forced to ask the questions. We’re forced to create this space. Because Ole culture does not care for BIPOC and queer communities.”
Wyatt argued that St. Olaf administration exploits students of color, over-censors media and co-opts student organized events like the “7 Feet for 7 Shots” march.
Wyatt passed the microphone to Brianne Smith ’23, also a member of CUBE. Smith began by addressing the lack of Black women included in the event. She then turned her attention to King and addressed him directly, citing that in her Peers Organized to Support Student Excellence (POSSE) interview she was told by King that St. Olaf would be a welcoming place.
“Y’all made me think that St. Olaf and life on the hill was so damn welcoming,” Smith said. “It’s not.”
Midway through Smith’s speech, the Broadcast Media livestream was cut. The stream had been live since the opening song led by Wondemagegnehu.
Smith continued to discuss the departure of BIPOC faculty and the need to care for BIPOC communities on campus.
“St. Olaf does not respect my Brown skin, and that’s a problem,” Smith said.
After Wyatt and Smith’s speeches, CUBE walked out of the stadium. The livestream resumed, and students began leaving the stands. One student could be heard on the stream exclaiming, “If you don’t want to be a part of this St. Olaf manufactured protest, then leave.”
However, the march continued on. Two socially distant, single file lines of students marched around campus for over an hour chanting “Black Lives Matter” and other slogans in a call and response nature.
As the march came to a conclusion, students dispersed among campus. Over the course of Friday evening, night and Saturday morning, students left protest signs outside of President David Anderson’s house on Ole Avenue, office and across campus, as well as creating chalk displays outside of Buntrock Commons and Tomson Hall.
This is a developing story