St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio

When I want to stay updated with breaking stories or the latest headlines, I like to browse through my Twitter or media apps. I never expected to learn the most about the news surrounding Ferguson, Missouri through my Snapchat.

When I opened the app on the morning of October 13th, I saw that my friends from Saint Louis University (SLU) had written “Rioters,” “Cops lined outside my dorm!” and “Happy midterms #SLU” across photos taken through the windows of their rooms, apparently in the middle of the night. They seemed to be focused on the campus’s sidewalks and streets, where through the hazy yellow of lampposts I strained to see rows of indistinct figures.

Their campus had become an arena of protest for an issue pivotal to the St. Louis community and to the entire county: the recent police shooting of Missouri teen Michael Brown.

Brown was shot and killed in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson on August 9th. Widespread demonstrations since the shooting brought the incident and the issues of racial profiling and police brutality behind it to national headlines—the ones I used to quickly scroll past.

SLU freshman Margaret Schneider described how, on the night she sent me the snap, she woke up to crowds chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot,” as they passed her dorm.

The group settled at the clock tower at the heart of SLU’s campus, demonstrated throughout the night, and proceeded to camp there for a week-long “Occupy SLU” sit-in.

During that week, protestors tried to engage students in discussion about their cause: bringing consciousness and justice to teens like Brown. They organized panels and spoke to those who came to the clock tower. According to Schneider, many students participated in the opportunities for dialogue. However, some felt rebuffed by tactics of the protestors they perceived as aggressive, such as yelling at passersby and hanging the American flag upside down. Schneider said students were also preoccupied with studying for the week’s exams.

Still, SLU freshman Faith Most said that the protest ultimately benefited students’ perspectives.

“It made us more mindful of others, more aware of the situation and informed,” Most said.

Most noted that many of her friends from other schools hadn’t heard about SLU’s occupation and that they had never discussed the issues of Ferguson before the protests.

“Unless I brought it up to my friends, we never talked about it,” Most said. “They had no idea how much it did affect our lives.”

I recalled my own ignorance of the events and their significance. Unlike SLU students, we Princetonians don’t have the proximity to Ferguson to press these issues so vividly into our collective consciousness.

Princeton student Achille Tenkiang has worked to bridge students’ disconnect from events like Ferguson. Tenkiang helped to found Princeton’s Black Leadership Coalition, a council of leaders from black student groups. When they held a vigil for Brown in October, Tenkiang said their goal was to create an opportunity for students of all backgrounds to participate in a dialogue about Ferguson.

“We realized that in the past, at Princeton, these kind of events generally attract a fairly homogenous crowd,” Tenkiang said. “[…] And we realized that that wasn’t as productive because only having black students showing up at events like this, we’re not opening the dialogue to the Princeton community at large.”

For Brown’s vigil, they invited campus organizations such the Muslim Students Association and members of the Jewish community to speak about Ferguson and how it impacted them.

Tenkiang said that the inclusion of more groups in gatherings like the vigil could help them all to gain greater leverage for the causes they share. He also hoped that the inclusivity of these events would increase activism and awareness across campus.

“One thing that I find very discouraging about Princeton is that we have the resources to be politically active as a campus, but many students don’t use these resources,” Tenkiang said. “We really don’t like to speak out. We’re very much about being politically correct. And I think that does harm us, because we don’t challenge ourselves to think deeply about…pressing issues in our country today that we will have to deal with when we leave.”

If we rely on our location to provide all of our realizations, very few of today’s most crucial concerns will reach our community. We must create our own initiative out of a sincere interest in and appreciation for different perspectives.

“[Try] going to…events where probably you will be the minority, not being afraid of that, opening your mind to what knowledge you possibly could gain,” Tenkiang suggests to Princetonians.

On any campus bulletin board, lamppost or doorway, you’ll find invitations to multicultural performances, panels, screenings, celebrations and more. From the entertaining to the enlightening, each event is an introduction to a new and valuable viewpoint. We can’t wait for others’ voices to wake us. We must seek them out ourselves.