On Aug. 29, the City of Wooster held an “I Have a Dream” rally at the square in downtown to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom protest where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Sponsored by the local NAACP chapter and the Wayne County Racial Justice Coalition, the rally this year had over 200 attendees.
However, while students from the College expressed their desire to attend the rally, the campus quarantine that lasted until Sept. 10 restricted them from taking part in the event. Members of the faculty, however, were able to attend the rally.
One of the attendees was the Chair and Associate Professor of Economics Amyaz Moledina, who commented on the significance of the rally. “The protest has catalyzed civic participation in really neat ways,” said Moledina. “For example, thanks to the efforts of a few key people, we are aware of what is going on in our City and its associated governing bodies. We are not just protesting, we are learning about the issues, getting to know our neighbors and engaging in dialogue to make our community better.”
Furthermore, President Sarah Bolton not only attended the event, but also was one of the speakers. When asked about the spirit of the rally, Bolton said, “I thought the Wooster rally was powerful for several reasons.” She continued, “There was a great turnout, and great collaborative effort between the Wooster-Orrville NAACP, the League of Women Voters, and many other allies. It was an honor for me to speak after Dr. Yvonne Williams, who was a long-time Wooster professor and leader in the campus community. There were also many others who spoke powerfully, intersecting their own ideas and experiences with timeless words from Dr. King and from Congressman Lewis. I particularly appreciated what Dr. Williams said regarding the idea of having a dream that we would one day live in a society that was free of racism and racist violence. She said, ‘It is important to have a dream. But right now, we need less dreaming, and more action.’ I couldn’t agree with her more.”
As the members of the faculty took part in the event, students on campus conveyed their frustration with being unable to participate in the rally.
One of Wooster’s students, Samuel Casey ’21, noted that he thought it was important to go and was also encouraged by a faculty member to take part in the rally. “I got an email from one of my professors about attending [the protest] in Wooster and I thought it was very important to go,” Casey mentioned. “On the day of the rally, however, I found out that attending would be a violation of the Community Care Agreement.”
He also expressed his discontent with the lack of clear communication between members of the College community. “There seems to be some kind of miscommunication between the faculty and the College because there is no way [the faculty] would advertise [the event] if they knew that the students could not even go,” he noted.
Led by this frustration and unable to understand why only students on campus were required to quarantine, Casey reached out to Bolton to receive clarification about the quarantine policy.
As a response, Bolton stated, “This is because of differences in living situations.” She went on, “Students live in what’s called a ‘congregate setting’ — with relatively high numbers of people sharing a building, restrooms, etc. In general, public health advice for congregate living is more stringent than is the case for other spaces, because the higher number of people means everyone needs to be extra-careful to avoid illness transmission.”
Bolton continued, “This is why we have invested in more extensive testing for students, and also why — as we brought students back and started up the community — we required students to stay on campus unless it was absolutely necessary that they go elsewhere. Similarly, when the county public health advisory level increased [the first week of Sept.], the County Health Commissioner wanted to be extra-sure that students didn’t increase their risk of exposure by spending time off-campus. This was to protect students – because if one student catches an illness off campus and brings that back to the dorm, that provides a greater risk for infecting multiple individuals and increases the risk of illness more broadly on campus than if one staff or faculty member (who does not live in a dorm) does.”
While students could not attend the rally this year, the faculty’s presence and Bolton’s address in the rally nevertheless represented the College’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement. The College is also actively working to promote anti-racism at the campus, so students will have more opportunities to express their support.