Members of the UA community gathered Saturday morning to protest racism on campus and the prominence of segregationist politicians as building and organization namesakes.
In overcast and rainy weather, roughly 100 protestors gathered in front of Fulbright Dining Hall and marched along Garland Avenue and Maple Street toward Gearhart Hall. Led by Black Student Caucus member Tyrah Jackson, a junior, the group stopped in front of Old Main’s statue of former Sen. J. William Fulbright to call for its removal, before five speakers took to the upper level of Gearhart’s courtyard.
Black Student Caucus members shared personal experiences of racism at the UofA and discussed their goal of creating an anti-racist campus. Speakers also called attention to the legacies of Fulbright and former Gov. Charles Brough, and the prominence of their names and likenesses on the UA campus.
Brough Commons, Fulbright’s statue, the Fulbright Peace Fountain and the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences are named after the two figures. Fulbright Dining Hall is named for the late senator’s mother, Roberta W. Fulbright.
“It does not matter if racism is being done consciously or subconsciously by the university, by the student body,” Jackson said during her speech. “What matters is that racism is being done at all. I believe the way to (be anti-racist) is to rid the university of its racist effigies, but also of its structural discrepancies that continuously promote institutional racism."
Jackson and her fellow speakers called for the removal of all symbols associated with Fulbright and Brough. Jackson said her ancestors survived the 1919 Elaine Massacre, during which more than 200 Black Americans were killed. At the time, Gov. Brough praised white citizens involved in what was the “deadliest racial confrontation in Arkansas history,” according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.
University officials formed an advisory committee in August 2020 to evaluate the legacy of Fulbright and his place on the UA campus. The group, composed of students, faculty, staff and alumni, is expected to recommend a course of action to Chancellor Steinmetz, said John Thomas, manager of university communications.
Protest organizers called on administrators to make changes to create a more inclusive campus for current and future students. Senior Jakayla Storey, a speaker, said Black students feel silenced and put on hold without a decision by administrators on the matter.
“This is really hurting a lot of their students, especially their Black students,” Storey said. “I’m hoping that, with that being said, they will try to make a decision quicker and understand that, (with) the Fulbright name, there’s so many different names they could put in that place.”
Other speakers, including graduate student Warrington Sebree, said change is needed to disrupt the cycle of systemic racism on the UA campus.
The speeches’ subject matter struck a chord with Jacob Bellando, a senior, who said his Christian faith compelled him to speak out against racism and injustice on campus. He attended the protest to learn from and better understand the perspectives of students of color whose experiences differ from his own.
“The legacy of Fulbright and Brough is a legacy of weak leadership and racist actions, respectively,” Bellando said. “Americans have this trend of idolizing white men who perform sufficiently good actions, without taking into account the great injustices that they either took part in, or were complacent in.”
University officials support students’ right to protest and value input from students on the “issues that matter deeply to them,” Thomas said in an email.
While committee members have yet to reach a decision on Fulbright and Brough’s place on campus, Storey thinks the protest’s turnout is a positive sign, she said.
“We didn’t even expect this many people, so we’re really happy with it,” Story said. “We think everyone was really happy to be here, and that’s what really matters — that they’re motivated to make change after today.”