BEMIDJI -- Following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, which gave rise to protests across the country, Bemidji State University’s Black Student Union aims to address social injustices with a demonstration from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Zoe Christensen, the president of BSU’s Black Student Union, is hopeful that the event will inspire change.
Saturday’s demonstration is not a march, Christensen explained, demonstrators will just be sitting near the Paul and Babe statues, where they will listen to speakers and observe nine minutes of silence in memory of George Floyd. She added that the event will be 100% peaceful, and that any acts of violence will absolutely not be tolerated.
The event will feature community speakers, many of which are students and faculty members from BSU.
Christensen will deliver a speech titled “A Message to the Silent,” in which she will address community members who have chosen not to say anything against social injustice.
“My message to people in Bemidji is that when you ignore these issues, you are supporting the side of oppression. Regardless of what you say, regardless of what you don’t say -- if you say nothing, that supports the side of oppression,” she said.
She hopes the community can learn to work together as a whole to help those who are oppressed.
“The responsibility shouldn’t lie on only the people that are being oppressed," Christensen said. "It should be everyone’s want and responsibility for everyone in their own community to feel safe, to feel comfortable and to feel like their voice matters.”
Organizer’s eventual goals are to help mend the relationship between law enforcement and community members, and to put an end to the normalization of racial intolerance being shared on social media.
“There’s a lot of negative stigma around the relationship between law enforcement and the community within the Bemidji (Police Department) and the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Department,” she said.
“I would like to see the relationship between the law enforcement and the community improve and I want people to be able to trust law enforcement because at the end of the day, we have to coexist.
“I just think it could be better. Where we are now, people are scared, people are hurting, and that shouldn’t happen just because of the way one looks, thinks, feels. That is the main goal I see here: the relationship between law enforcement and the community to be better established,” she concluded.
Christensen said overall, she has been impressed with the way BSU has handled recent situations -- showing support for the event, and acting quickly in response to racist social media posts.
“I’ve even had faculty members reach out to me personally and as the president of the Bemidji State Black Student Union, I’ve been included in email threads with a lot of the administration,” she said. “They have been the proactive voice to reach out to students and look for ways to help support everyone that’s feeling oppressed during this time. So, I think that the support that the University has been giving is great,” she added.
She is hopeful that the presence of the Black Student Union -- which became active in 2019 -- will help recruit more students of color to BSU. Christensen describes the Black Student Union as an open door for people that don’t know where they belong.
“We were really just an environment for people to celebrate black culture, black excellence, black success,” she said.
According to Bemidji State, the number of students who are black, including those who identify as more than one race, is just under 200. In a campus of nearly 5,000 students, the black population comes out to around 4% of the overall student body.
Last week, BSU released a statement regarding the expulsion of a student who posted racist threats on Snapchat, which Christensen said was well received.
“I think they handled it really well, the student the Bemidji State statement about it is a ‘former student,’ so obviously they kicked him out of school, and they sent a message to all staff and students regarding the situation and I think that was really responsible of them, because the student that sent the messages is someone that everyone knows, I mean we go to a small school, everyone knows everyone,” she said. “It makes a lot of students feel more comfortable that the university is taking it seriously.”
While Christensen said she has heard a lot of negativity, she has been largely impressed by community support.
“Despite the negative comments we do hear, there are a lot of people that are ready for change to happen, and there are a lot of people that are ready to support the change,” she said. “There are a lot of great people in this community we are grateful for and thankful to have their support.”