By Abby Weingarten
Rising New College third-year Ginelle Swan attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Broward County last week, marching from the streets of downtown to the local police station.
Tear gas was released into the crowd (though Swan left early enough to avoid exposure) and police barricaded peaceful protesters in parking lots.
A lifelong activist and the co-president of New College’s Black Student Union (BSU), Swan said the experience was “unbelievable and scary” for herself and her friends. But that fear hasn’t stopped Swan from planning her next protest. If anything, it has motivated her to fight harder.
“I want to remind everyone that this is not the time to slow down,” Swan said. “This is the time to push for more action.”
And Swan is pushing for more action at New College, too.
She recently sent a statement to the entire campus community on behalf of the BSU and the New College Student Alliance (which is currently run by president Steven Keshishian).
“To the students engaging in direct action against the over policing of black and brown bodies and state-sanctioned racism, we support and encourage you to continue fighting for freedom for all,” Swan and Keshishian wrote. “The country can be taken from those that wish to preserve the current state of affairs. We can be the generation that topples the system and lays the foundation for a better future, including the ones within New College.”
The two then presented a call to action, stating that “there is much work to do” at New College, regarding the challenges black people face on a predominantly white campus.
“We are here to rebuild the community into one where all voices will be heard, and all concerns will be addressed and resolved with urgency,” the young leaders wrote. “We believe that New College can be an example of what a safe and healthy campus looks like, so we are urging the administration to take the risks that come with implementing ideas that may seem radical but are grounded in equity and freedom.”
Swan knew it was a bold move to authentically voice her concerns to her elders, she said.
“I have a lot of nervousness around having my elders see my perspective. I’m still kind of nervous that someone is going to think my views are too radical and is going to try to argue with me,” Swan said. “But I’m open to having these discussions because they do need to be had.”
To that end, Swan is inviting all black staff and faculty members to future BSU meetings in the Gender and Diversity Center. She also wants to create a space that is an alternative to the BSU meetings that will allow non-black students to participate and listen (as a means of better educating themselves about the struggles of the black community).
“I think it would be nice for non-black students to hear our perspective,” Swan said. “I feel like more opportunities can be created to have these conversations, even though they might be uncomfortable. I also want the black and brown staff to know they can be heard, and that this is a safe place.”
Having a safe place on campus is significant for students like Swan, who often encounter racism (whether intentional or inadvertent) on a daily basis.
“Growing up, all of my afro-centric features were made fun of,” said Swan, who is from Deerfield Beach. “Even at New College, I still experience microaggressions. People will say things to me and not realize how offensive they are, and then I feel like I need to educate them. But it’s exhausting always having to explain things.”
Swan is currently studying computer science and international studies, and plans to graduate in 2022. She chose New College because it offered her an opportunity to intensively study multiple languages and work toward a language-focused career (potentially in East Asia). She also wants to be a youth mentor, and is currently strategizing ways to teach coding to black students during the summers at Deerfield Beach High School (her alma mater).
“I want to encourage black students at my high school and show them, ‘It’s OK to expand and explore areas that don’t have much representation (like coding),’” Swan said.
When Swan was a high school student, she was heavily involved in political protests about issues like gun violence.
“When the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School happened, we walked for 15 miles from my high school to that high school,” Swan said. “We stood out there and people gave speeches, and it was a really heartfelt moment.”
More heartfelt moments are occurring right now, as Swan is participating in a civil rights movement that she feels is absolutely pivotal.
“Because of these protests, I feel the climate of America has changed,” Swan said. “And I want to send a message to the white students on campus who claim to be allies to the black and brown students: Don’t be afraid to go to protests with black students. Don’t be afraid use your privilege to help amplify black voices.”
Black voices are being silenced all over the world, and seeing it happen firsthand in Broward County was sobering for Swan.
“The protestors there were trying to be peaceful. A white officer actually pushed over a black woman who was sitting on the ground protesting,” Swan said. “And when that happened, the protestors all around starting throwing water bottles at him, and the police started tear-gassing the crowd. People were trapped in the parking lot and couldn’t leave because the police blocked all the exits.”
Swan knows that she is risking her life every time she protests. But for her, it is not a choice anymore; it is a duty.
“This is something that has to be done. We have to push for what we want and what we believe in—for more equality,” Swan said. “Now is the time to push as hard as we possibly can. I don’t ever want to look back and regret that I didn’t do enough for my people when I was younger.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.