The dark, gothic arches of SHU’s Presidents Hall carry the reverb of chattering student voices. Junior Nyasia Griffin, an allied health and nursing major with a concentration in social behavioral science and the president of SHU's Black Student Union, stands on the Hall's carpeted stairs, listing off the phone numbers of the various leadership offices on campus to a live Instagram video feed. She’s encouraging students' parents to call them and demand the AFAM program be protected, that the parents “pay too much [tuition] for this to be going on”. The Hall itself is illuminated in part by a stained-glass portrait of the Virgin. The students are preparing to sleep here another night.
The periphery of the hall is crowded with laptops and cords, plastic tote bags from Target, sleeping bags, and cast-off jackets. A side table bears empty containers of mouthwash and toothpaste, and at times the students play music. Finals are fast approaching, some huddle on the floor texting parents, some study.
"It's finals week, we are supposed to be studying to be the scholars we are, but we have to be here instead." One student says when handed the megaphone. There's a neon green poster on the wall: "Would you ask your White students to SETTLE?"
At 9:45 p.m. on May 3, University President Joseph Nyre's office sent out an email to the student body regarding the demonstration that day. In the email he claims that the ongoing discussions about the future of AFAM at Seton Hall have been undertaken "in good faith by the University, as we sought to advance Africana Studies in partnership with students through a considered and collaborative process."
A student who requested to be anonymous tells me that the movement has been intentionally misled by campus leadership. "We've been meeting since December,” the student said. “They've [University administration] been intentionally misleading us, hoping we burn out. President Nyre's email last night, all cap."
A different student (who also requested anonymity) told me that students have been requesting an update of the AFAM degree requirement page for over a year, to no avail. Last night a new page appeared (it was linked to in Nyre's email) on the SHU website: "Information Regarding Africana Studies." The AFAM degree requirement page has yet to be updated according to the source.
In addition to accusations of bad faith engagement by the university, protest attendees have accused campus security of photographing young female protesters sleeping in President’s Hall, in addition to physically removing demonstrators. Protest speakers say that the university's handling of the Protect AFAM protest goes against their right to freedom of speech and freedom of demonstration.
University Spokesperson Laurie Pine said she confirmed with Public Safety that no demonstrators were physically removed from the building.
Later in the afternoon, around 2:45 p.m., Rev. Forrest Pritchett arrives. News of this echoes jovially through the occupied Presidents Hall, making its way up the layered dark wood staircases. He’s handed the megaphone and offers some words of fortitude in addition to relaying information about an open letter he dispatched earlier in the day and a zoom meeting he attended with University leadership. Pritchett encourages to students to continue to “walk in the path of righteousness” and to “treat this experience as soul food.”
When asked by a representative of Protect AFAM if University leadership gave any indication that they intended to meet with Protect AFAM representatives to discuss steps forward, Rev. Pritchett said that they did not.
Donations from the local community continue to arrive: toothbrushes, sleeping bags are expected to get here soon. Student leadership offers assurances that a repeat of last night’s events won’t occur (unconsensual photographing of sleeping students). Newly elected SGA president Kai Hansen arrives and speaks to some protest attendees. The gospel choir is set to arrive in an hour and a half, a call for song requests is relayed.
As of May 5, the protest continues, and expands, with student protesters blocking both the South Orange and Ward gate entrances to the University campus. SHU leadership has not released any new statement on the AFAM protests. On May 3, SHU leadership’s last statement on the matter, they asserted that “we continue to listen carefully and deliver the requests of our former and current students while engaging in dialogue and further action.”
Avalon Swanson-Reid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.