Former ECU Black Student Union presidents voice support for band members’ protest

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Seven former Black Student Union presidents of East Carolina University have come together to issue a statement in support of the protest by 19 members of the Marching Pirates last weekend.

They took a knee during the playing of the national anthem prior to the school’s football game against the University of Central Florida on October 1; some played their instruments while on a knee, while others didn’t play at all.

At halftime when the band took the field they found themselves met with boos.

ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton later issued a statement that said the school acknowledges disappointment felt by fans. However, he urged them to act with respect for each other’s views.

The former BSU presidents issued their statement Tuesday afternoon after ECU issued a new statement late Monday from Dr. William Staub, director of Athletic Bands; Chris Ulffers, director of the School of Music; and Dr. Chris Buddo, dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication, which explicitly stated that protests wouldn’t be tolerated moving forward.

Tuesday’s statement by the BSU reads as follows:

East Carolina University has a rich history of student-led protests and movements that have helped shape its legacy towards one of inclusion and diversity. In that tradition, on Saturday, October 1, 2016, students joined a nationwide movement to bring attention and awareness to the widespread use of excessive force by law enforcement against African Americans. As former student leaders and graduates of this esteemed university, we are proud of these students for their peaceful expressions of outrage.

At that moment, these students chose to act with courage and for the sake of a cause that is greater than any one individual. This is a legitimate, national issue and it weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of millions. As alumni and former presidents of the East Carolina University Black Student Union, we issue this statement of support and solidarity.

We stand in unwavering support of our fellow Pirates’ bold exercise of their constitutional rights to freedom of speech and peaceable protest. We are equally proud of the response of Chancellor Staton, who reminded us that the university has a duty to safeguard free speech, peaceful assembly, and, ultimately, civil discourse – as written in the ECU Creed.

However, we are disappointed by statements of disapproval issued by Athletic Director Jeff Compher, along with Dr. Christopher Buddo, Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communications, and Administrators of the Marching Pirates, Mr. Christopher Ulffers and Mr. William Staub. Those statements stand in contrast to this university’s strong history of student activism and in opposition to the position of the Chancellor.

Furthermore, we are troubled that both statements neglected to address the visceral responses by fans that were eerily reminiscent of efforts to thwart 1960s Civil Rights movement protests. Statements made by these administrators willfully chose not to address the alleged acts of violence and hateful words that soon followed. Instead, statements made by these individuals erroneously equated the protest of these students as unpatriotic and demeaning to the men and women that serve and have served in our military. In issuing these claims, Dr. Buddo, Mr. Compher, and others failed to honor a legacy of free speech activism that our nation’s men and women bravely protect at home and abroad.

As former presidents of East Carolina University’s largest student organization, we are moved to affirm our ongoing commitment to bring a more tolerant and diverse campus environment for all students. We will not allow East Carolina to go back to the days where the black student’s voice was marginalized. The actions of the East Carolina’s band leadership are deplorable. Now is the time to support our students wholeheartedly, since it appears that these leaders intended to repress these students’ freedom of speech and not safeguard it. So, Today we say to those students that we hear your silent protest, dismiss all attempts to muzzle your cries for systematic change that preserves the dignity of black and brown people in this nation. We hear you. We kneel with you. We carry instruments of protest alongside you.

With this spirit in mind, we call upon the statement of the band department to be retracted and replaced with a statement that more closely mirrors the vision of inclusion and tolerance that East Carolina University promises to fulfill and a statement that is in lockstep with the Chancellor’s position.
Additionally, we call upon all members of the ECU community to remember that these are students first and urge restraint to how we treat them even if we are in disagreement. We should do our best to protect them and allow them to express themselves without slander and hateful comments because without them, our beloved Saturdays in Dowdy Ficklen would not be possible.

These students, which represent ECU’s diverse student body, have protested in the most peaceful way possible and have done so with passion, boldness, and pure conviction. The ethnic makeup of the student protesters is reflective of a growing national consensus that injustices that plague the black community across this country can no longer be ignored. We strongly urge the narrative to shift from the “what” and focus on the “why” that has led to these actions. The broader Pirate family must take this message as a lesson to seriously reflect on their cause – our cause. If these students can be united for the change they wish to see, then our university must not only stand behind them, but create more opportunities for the ECU community to dialogue and take a stance on these issues. Then, and only then, will ECU ever truly meet its’ pledge for inclusion and diversity, not only in the makeup of the student body but in its ideas and perspectives.

In solidarity,
Dennis Mitchell, Black Student Union President 2001-2002, ℅ 2006
Carlos Bennerman, Black Student Union President 2002-2003, ℅ 2003
Knick Lamont Dixon, Black Student Union President 2003-2004, ℅ 2004
Tamika W. Kelly, Black Student Union President 2004-2005, ℅ 2007
Regina Twine, Black Student Union President 2005-2006, ℅ 2007
Patrick I. Dixon, Black Student Union President 2006-2008, ℅ 2008
Brandon K. Jones, Black Student Union President 2009, ℅ 2010

The movement began when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem before preseason games, citing racial injustice and police brutality.



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