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BSU debates #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter

This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Andrew Goudsward.

The Black Student Union hosted a discussion, #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter, on Monday night in the Multicultural Student Services Center.

The event, which more than 50 students attended, was a response to an administrator’s tweet during the Democratic presidential debate on Oct. 13. Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski, echoing a question posed to the candidates, tweeted:

The tweet set off a small social media frenzy among current students and alumni, because many supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement say that using the phrase “insensitive” is insensitive and misses the point of their advocacy. A screenshot of the tweet was “liked” more than 700 times on Overheard at GW.

BSU president Leslie Ogu said the discussion was designed to “bring light to an issue a lot people don’t really talk about.”

Konwerski, who did not attend but offered to met with BSU leaders via Twitter, later said:

Here are three takeaways from the discussion:

1. The problem with #AllLivesMatter

The “black lives matter” slogan and hashtag was first used after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. in August 2014.

The phrase evolved from a hashtag into a social movement advocating for black empowerment and against police brutality. #AllLivesMatter emerged to counter the perceived exclusivity of black activists, attendees said.

Devan Cole, membership and events coordinator of BSU, said #AllLivesMatter is “silencing and invalidating” because it draws attention from the issues raised by black activists.

“[It] represents the misunderstanding and ignorance of the administration to black students,” he said. “I was upset and disappointed, but I don’t think I was very surprised.”

One attendee said #AllLivesMatter was the equivalent of “putting a white hand over a black mouth.”

2. Feeling a lack of inclusion on campus

Many students said officials can do more to create an inclusive environment for minorities.

Nkechi Okoronkwo criticized University touting its diversity, despite the fact that only 5 percent of the 2014 freshmen class identifies as African-American, according to GW’s Office of Institutional Research.

Paul Lisbon, a member of the Black Men’s Initiative said, “people feel comfortable saying the N-word around their roommates here at GW.”

Cole said the problem included school administrators and he urged those in attendance not to trivialize Konwerski’s tweet.

“I don’t want to reduce this to college kids saying petty things on social media,” he said. “Because after all that’s why we’re all here. We just want our administration to be a lot more careful with what they say,” Cole said.

3. How can we make change?

Though the group agreed that #AllLivesMatter is problematic, they disagreed about the best way to go about advocating better practices.

Dino Nzanga, a member of BSU, said black activists should work within the system to focus on concrete legislation, like installing body cameras on police officers. The Metropolitan Police Department piloted a body cameras program last fall.

“Instead of arguing over black lives matter vs. all lives matter we should talk about about solutions,” he said, “Debates won’t change the fact that when I walk home to my dorm some cop might shoot me.”

Others said concrete solutions wouldn’t change the problem.

“To say that police should have body cameras – they do, and guess what it doesn’t do anything. We see videos of black people dying,” said Renangie Alcantara-Polanco, a member of the Organization of Latino American Students.

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