In the hours before the public demonstration she helped organize, University of Idaho student Cynthia Ballesteros said she was most apprehensive about potential backlash.
She wasn”t the only one.
“It”s just a peaceful protest,” UI student Jessy Forsmo-Shadid said as she hurried through the Idaho Commons to the site of the demonstration. “Of all the times there could be opposition, please don”t let it be today.”
She carried a large, yellow banner that read “University of Idaho stands with Mizzou.”
Dozens of UI students, faculty and staff gathered Nov. 19 in the UI Free Speech Zone outside the UI Library to express solidarity with the student protesters at the University of Missouri. Moscow community members and representatives from the Washington State University Black Student Union also attended the demonstration.
Demonstrators on the University of Missouri campus protested their administration”s mishandling of several race-related incidents on campus. Their efforts ultimately resulted in the resignation of President Timothy M. Wolfe and led Mizzou Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin to step down and accept a new role.
The UI protestors, dressed in black, stood against the cold in a tight group holding their signs. They took turns speaking out about their experiences being minorities on campus and expressed their hopes for the future for an hour and a half.
The crowd caused dozens of students to pause as they made their way to class. Some pulled out their cell phones. Others leaned to other onlookers to ask in hushed voices what was going on.
Chelsea Butler, who organized the demonstration, said first and foremost the demonstrators stood to support the Mizzou protesters, who wanted people to know how tense and abused they felt on their own campus.
It”s something Butler said many minority students experience at UI as well.
“We hear their voices,” said Butler, who also founded the UI Black Student Union three years ago. “We see what they”re doing.”
There had been a similar solidarity demonstration in the Compton Union Building on WSU”s campus Nov. 16. There, several UI students joined members of the WSU Black Student Union and other members of the WSU community to wear black, hold signs and speak out about their experiences.
Following the peaceful demonstration on the WSU campus, the Pullman Yik Yak, an anonymous social media app for college students, lit up with posts that were critical of the demonstration.
“Protest ISIS, stand with equality, protest any legitimate cause and I will stand with you,” read one post. “But Mizzou? Go read a book.”
Ballesteros said it”s nothing new.
“With race issues and students, it gets a little weird,” Ballesteros said. “There are comments on Yik Yak during cultural events that like, nobody will tell us straight up, but they maybe are thinking.”
On the afternoon of the UI demonstration, however, any opposition seemed quiet and students were left largely in peace. The students who spoke out were met not with hate but with cheers, applause and hugs.
“I”m standing here for my siblings,” Forsmo-Shadid said in front of the crowd. “They have big dreams, and big dreams of going to college – I”m here to make sure college campuses are safe for them.”
She finished her short speech with a singular sentiment.
“We give a shit,” she said to the crowd, who immediately called it back to her.
“We give a shit!”
UI freshman Hailey Thorn had not planned on being at the protest and said she had not even known it was going on. Thorn said she was just at the right place at the right time.
“So I”m probably one of the whitest people here,” she said to laughter, addressing the protesters on a whim.
Her good-natured introduction quickly grew serious as Thorn condemned her own privilege and the culture that marginalizes minority students.
“We should be over this by now,” Thorn said as she began to cry. An African-American woman broke away from the protesters, running forward to hug her. “We should have been over this years ago.”
Adonay “Donny” Berhe, a member of the UI Black Student Union, told the crowd he was born in Ethiopia but grew up in Mississippi.
“I have seen what racism actually creates,” he said. “Racism is everywhere at every time.”
He praised UI as a school in conservative north Idaho for having such a strong voice for diversity issues, but insisted without love, they would never see the change they needed.
“It”s a fight,” he said. “A struggle against the system. If there”s one color for America, show me.”
As the demonstration neared its end and one of the protesters read a poem aloud, a sigh of relief could be heard among the onlookers.
“Yik Yak is quiet,” someone whispered.
In fact, on the UI campus Yik Yak, there was only one post that mentioned Mizzou.
“Thank you yik yak,” read the post, which had 26 upvotes by the time it cycled off the feed. “For not being racist during our Mizzou protest. Our campus is progressing.”
Editor”s note: Jessy Forsmo-Shadid is a former Argonaut columnist.
Hannah Shirley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @itshannah7