Young black men. Young black women. Silent, still, on the floor of the HUB.
This is more than a simple sit-in. They call it a die-in, a way to bring attention to the number of black lives lost to violence, especially cases involving police.
The participants and their supporters wore black. They held signs that voiced their frustration because their mouths were silenced with strips of tape, emblazoned with their message: black lives matter.
“Today was just one of those great days where everyone comes together and does something,” said Michael Banks, a senior in telecommunications at Penn State. “We are pretty much saying we are upset.”
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The nonviolent demonstration is one of the many that have mushroomed around the country in the days after the announcement that the officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., would not be indicted for the killing. For many, even those who have become accustomed to news of violence against the black community, it has proved a watershed moment.
Penn State and central Pennsylvania are not isolated from the movement.
“Penn State is not asleep. We are. We all are,” said Kayla Shelton-Burleigh, second vice president of the Student Black Caucus, invoking the famous Penn State chant.
But while the busy HUB drew crowds of spectators for the protest, the response on social media showed a different side.
“The black kids can protest all they want at the HUB. I have no problem with that. Just don’t bring that space taking (expletive) to Rec Hall,” said someone on Twitter.
That posting and other online ugliness did not go unnoticed by Penn State officials.
“University administrators who are on campus are concerned by the vitriol that is being posted to social media by some individuals denigrating the students who were expressing their views on social justice with the “die-in” in at the HUB. The students in the HUB expressed themselves in a peaceful manner, as is their right under the U.S. Constitution,” said spokeswoman Lisa Powers.
“Given the size and complexity of Penn State it is inevitable that there will be differences of opinion about virtually any topic. This is actually the heart and soul of a healthy academic environment. However, the use of racial slurs and hate speech in response to these students’ actions, is unacceptable and repugnant. As Dr. Barron indicated in a recent letter to the community — civility is a cornerstone to any discussion, and its lack only creates a deeper divide among us,” she said in an email to the Centre Daily Times.
President Eric Barron was traveling Tuesday and unavailable for comment.
The protesters say this was not a one-time thing. There are plans for events through the rest of the week, including a march on Old Main around noon Wednesday. It’s also not the first event many have participated in. Banks was in Philadelphia for the post-Ferguson protests there. Shelton-Burleigh is a State College native, but she did her own protesting on College Avenue over Thanksgiving break.
“This is bigger than Ferguson,” she said. “This has become an epidemic. For me, I did it because I am just so tired. I am tired of being run over. My life is just as important as my white counterpart.”