Correction: an unfinalized version of this article was originally uploaded. It has been updated as of Oct. 26, 2021.
On Oct. 2, the homecoming football game was interrupted by a student-led protest. During the national anthem, 30-40 students walked out onto Seaverns field and occupied it.
The protesters were a group of frustrated students who called themselves One Colby. They had put up fliers around campus with a QR code linking to their website, onecolby.com, which they say they set up in 48 hours.
“We had walked over to the field,” one protester told The Colby Echo in an interview with some of the One Colby activists. “And before we decided to go on the field, we had handed out fliers with the QR code of our website to parents and to other spectators.”
The One Colby website was an anonymous list of demands related to racism, lack of mental health support, housing, dining, and much more.
“At the national anthem, we went on the field, and we occupied the field … Immediately, once spectators were aware of what was going on … people were yelling at us,” a protester recounted. They claimed that the protesters were the targets of racist and violent statements as they occupied the field and that football players were aggressive towards them.
Colby Football’s head coach and captain have not responded to requests for comment.
The protesters were approached by several athletic officials, all the while being booed by people in the crowd. They decided to sit down on the field, they said, to emphasize the peaceful nature of their protest.
“Fifteen minutes in, Dean Karlene [Burrell-McRae `94] came on the field and immediately started talking to the three of us [at the front],” they went on. “Dean Karlene was essentially saying ‘you have a right to protest … but this is against the student handbook because you’re disrupting college operations.’”
The protesters said that they were aware of the college protest policy, and one of their demands is for a more specific policy that outlines what kinds of protests are permitted.
“I do believe in a right to protest and I know the College believes in the right to protest,” Burrell-McRae told The Colby Echo. “We are an educational institution. We have a right to disagree. We have a right to express our views in which we don’t always agree. I do know protests are meant to be disruptive … I also understand, though, that we have made a decision as a college that the right to protest can’t supersede the right for people to be fully engaged.”
She went on to describe her immediate response to the protest.
“A number of deans and other staff and I split up to walk around, and essentially what I shared with the students was that I think they were courageous — they chose to protest — they have a right to protest, but they don’t have a right to disrupt the game, and I would be happy to walk off the field with them and sit down and go through all their demands … and you have a right to stay on the field … but if you stay on the field you are putting yourself at risk to possibly be suspended or expelled … and if they choose not to leave the field, I was likely going to have to call the police,” she said.
The protestors said that, as a group including many Black and brown students, the fear of a police encounter motivated most of them to evacuate the field.
They said the last protestor left after about an hour, after which the game resumed.
“We did have fans come up to us at the end of the demonstration telling us ‘thank you,’ because they saw the validity of the demonstration and … our demands,” a protester said.
The following Monday, Burrell-McRae and Provost Margaret McFadden sent an email to the College responding to the protest and confirming the College’s protest policy. They noted in the email that “this protest was not the culmination of ongoing conversations with these students.”
Protesters told The Colby Echo that they found the email insulting. They felt that the racism and aggression they said they faced were being ignored rather than condemned, and that the record of past student activism relating to One Colby’s demands was being erased.
An Advise the Deans event was previously scheduled for the following Wednesday.
“We were going to have the dean’s conversations this week,” Burrell-McRae said. “I started those with Margaret [McFadden] years ago … [for] students to be able to know they have access to those who are helping to make decisions on their behalf.”
The event began relatively calmly, but turned adversarial when students began shouting at the dean, according to a student in attendance. Burrell-McRae told The Colby Echo that she addressed students’ concerns to the best of her abilities, but could not speak to whether or not the students were happy with her answers.
Later in the week, some protesters felt unsafe on campus because of their role in the protest. They said that they faced intimidation by football players in Dana while eating dinner.
“I didn’t feel comfortable calling any of my deans,” one protester said. Some protesters, they added, have started using a buddy system to walk around campus because they don’t feel safe going out alone. Another protester said they only leave their room to go to class and the Pugh Center.
The protestors said they are now working with trusted faculty and adminisitrators. On Saturday, Oct. 9, the College’s English department released a statement in response to the demonstration.
“What we’re hearing suggests that the students involved in the protest are feeling vulnerable and could use our support, both as faculty and as a department that’s committed to free expression and inclusivity,” Associate Professor of English Aaron Hanlon said.
Burrell-McRae expressed concern about tensions between students and the assumptions they might make.
“People can’t walk around assuming that every Black and brown student was or was not [at the protest],” she said. “That is not fair. There were also white students who were at the protest … I think students are feeling that folks are just making assumptions that they participated or didn’t participate, and I think we need to think about that as a community.”
However, she remained optimistic about the future and what is possible if students are open to coming together.
“It is so easy for people to forget that human beings are at the center of this,” Burrell-McRae said. “Our students who protested are human beings and they’re members of our community. The football players are … members of the community. The coaches who put in the work, the faculty who put in the work, the staff, we are all part of a community.”
“Can we stop and think, is the post we’re about to put on Yik Yak going to help or cause harm?” she asked, referencing the app through which rumors and commentary on the protest have spread.
The protesters said that they think the situation has gotten worse since the protest, and hope the administration will address the situation to their satisfaction. They are also anticipating disciplinary action, though they said that none has been taken yet.
One Colby is currently editing their website, adding a section dedicated to sexual misconduct. They welcome student feedback.