June 11, 2020
The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor sparked protests in all 50 states, and quickly spread to major cities on five other continents. Isabella Moles ’21 and Lauryn Longacre ’21, seniors at Susquehanna University, wanted the Selinsgrove community to significantly contribute to the global conversation about systemic racism.
“Small towns are commonly overlooked,” said Longacre. “But we support people who are being hurt in our community and in communities far away from ours.”
After participating in demonstrations throughout central Pennsylvania, and seeing a small, impromptu protest in Selinsgrove and recent vigils for Floyd around the valley, including one at Susquehanna, the two seniors realized a need for something larger and more organized.
“We started researching and a picked a date,” said Moles. “We used social media to spread the word and reached out to our friends.”
On Monday, June 8, Moles and Longacre gathered with more than 125 community members — local and valley residents, members of the campus community and borough officials — for over six hours to protest police brutality, and systemic racism that people of color experience in rural Pennsylvania.
“This is our community and our home,” Moles said. “This is where our school is. This is where our Susquehanna family is. We can’t be silent.”
Moles added that the participants expressed shared feelings: anger and frustration, hurt and sorrow. Many demonstrators said they were tired — tired of there still being a need to fight for social equity and justice.
“I was really appreciative of how well the demonstration went, and of how respectful all of the protesters and the people driving by were,” Longacre said.
Moles said that whenever an occasional passerby used a racial slur or made a derogatory comment, it reminded her of the importance of what they were doing.
Destiny Arturet ’12 joined Moles and Longacre for the demonstration in Selinsgrove, after also participating in a similar protest in Harrisburg last week.
“Susquehanna and the Selinsgrove community will always hold a very special place in my heart,” Arturet said. “But, as an educational institution, SU is not immune to racism.
“What happens at SU still matters to me and with students returning in the fall, action needs to be taken now,” she added. “My hope is that by showing up, black students, as well as indigenous and nonblack students of color, will know that there is a community here – current faculty and staff, alumni and residents of Selinsgrove – that supports them.”
Susquehanna students and alumni have organized or participated in peaceful protests across the country, from San Jose, California, to New York City. Zion Raeburn ’22, a Maryland native and broadcast & multimedia major, attended demonstrations in Washington, D.C.
“All my life, I’ve been seeing this,” he told Canada’s National Post. “I was in middle school when Trayvon Martin was shot. There have been countless others since, and I could have been any of those people.”
He went on to say that he was encouraged to see diversity in the crowds of protestors, and hopes that reform will come if people remain politically and socially active.
“I think, after all of this, young people are going to go out and vote. And then we’re going to see some real change,” he added. “We’re already seeing change because of this, but if all of the people who are protesting also vote, the world will start to take a turn for the better.”
Harvey Edwards, adjunct professor of English and creative writing and Susquehanna’s Teacher in Residence, agrees.
“This is a sea change,” he said during a June 9 interview with WKOK. “With nearly two weeks of protests that have been largely peaceful, in all parts of the country, with diverse groups of people coming together in large numbers, I think that there are going to be some lasting changes this time.”
In a June 2 statement to the campus community, Jonathan D. Green, president of Susquehanna, wrote, “It is not enough not to be racist, we must become actively anti-racist. We must be advocates, we must be defenders, and we must be champions for what is right and just.” That same day, the university communicated to current and future students who are disciplined for any form of peaceful protest or respectful freedom of expression that their place in Susquehanna’s campus community will not be affected.
“I am so proud of our students and alumni who are being engaged citizens and using their voices to make a positive difference in our communities,” Green said of SU members organizing and participating in peaceful protests.
Heading image: Protestors hold up signs on Monday afternoon along North Market Street in Selinsgrove. (Photo with permission from Robert Inglis/The Daily Item).