In 2020, the Black Lives Matter protests happened all across the nation, including Southern’s campus. Crescent magazine spoke to four student activists who are advocating for Black Lives Matter on and off campus:
Camryn Arpino-Brown, senior, psychology major
On Sept. 30, the demand reached Southern’s campus. Hundreds of students gathered to march from the Buley Library to the residential quad with one thing in mind: Black Lives Matter.
Camryn Arpino-Brown, a senior psychology major, put together the march in the wake of the news of the late actor Chadwick Boseman, who died on Aug. 28. She recalls the reaction that news had on those around her.
“It was to an extent where I saw people being really upset. And I can tell it wasn’t just from Chadwick dying, but it was from the year. Everything that had happened over the summer, from the start when George Floyd died,” Arpino-Brown says. “I realized people were so drained, emotionally, and tired of seeing people that looked like them die in the media.”
She emailed the then-Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Jermaine Wright, asking for any contacts who could help her put the march together on campus.
“I knew if I went to administrative level that he would be someone who would understand because he’s a part of this community. And I had my fingers crossed when I sent the email. And I hoped for the best. I was like, please,” says Arpino-Brown.
Shortly, they had a committee that consisted of administrators like Vice President of Student Affairs Tracy Tyree, Diane Ariza, who recently joined the university as the vice president for Diversity and Equity Programs, along with her fellow student leaders.
Arpino-Brown, who was raised in West Haven, drew inspiration o be an activist from her grandmother, Carroll E. Brown.
“She’s just been so involved being invested in her community, making it a better place. So growing up around her was like really inspiring to see a black woman take so much power and share that with her community,” says Arpino-Brown.
This was Arpino-Brown’s first march that she had been involved in putting together. She worked with administration, to organize the march where students gathered and marched from Hilton C. Buley Library to the Residential Quad and later had participants speak and perform.
As a person of mixed heritage, Arpino-Brown reflects on how it has shaped her experience and allowed her to meet a variety of people and connect with them.
“I wouldn’t trade that for the world. It is the greatest experience because it’s so mind opening, and it allows you to see so many different perspectives and view people in such a different light. Honestly, I don’t think I would be where I am if I wasn’t everything that I am. If I wasn’t LGBTQ, if I wasn’t female, if I wasn’t Native American and Black, I wouldn’t be surrounded by the community I’m with, and I wouldn’t be so actively involved in helping my community,” says Arpino-Brown.
Madison Alexis, junior, Interdisciplinary Studies major
Madison Alexis first learned about social justice in her first year of high school. Since then, she has always been compelled to stay involved in these issues. Alexis grew up in Windsor, where she
felt comfortable in her surroundings due to the high number of people of color in the community.
“I think growing up in Windsor benefited me. The fact that I didn’t always experience blatant ignorance as some other towns did, I was definitely shielded from it because of just what our area looks like,” Alexis says as she reflected on her upbringing.
She was a part of an action club in her high school, where she would meet with faculty to discuss social justice issues and work to “combat them in simple ways” as she puts it.
Now that she is in her third year, Alexis has also taken on the role of diversity peer educator with the hope of spreading awareness in classrooms.
“I know that we recently talked about our meeting, a lot of the issues of how we’re going to handle it related to the Black Lives Matter March, because like I said we’re diversity peer educators,” said Alexis. “We’re supposed to go inside the classrooms and implement this type of conversation and dialogue in our curriculum.”
The diversity peer educators were first hired by the Multicultural Center in Jan. 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the campus for the rest of the semester they were unable to go into classrooms.
Alexis is also a part of the track where she also sees change being made through the newly formed Athletes Fighting Injustice. That group was formed in the beginning of Fall 2020 semester to raise awareness among the Athletic Department.
Alexis was also a part of the committee that helped set up the Black Lives Matter March and through that experience, she is keen to keep spreading awareness.
“You just got to keep on telling the stories and being real and honest and true about this stuff in a very public and open manner. It’s like it honestly calls for people to be kind of vulnerable, but I think it’s definitely needed to get people
to listen,” says Alexis.
Jamil Harp, senior, communication major
Harp grew up in Bridgeport, is a first-generation college student and is currently conducting research on race relations during his senior year. A volunteer trip to Malawi in Africa sparked his passion for activism. He helped build a school in a village and stayed with a host family for the duration of the trip.
“Typically, in that village, women do not have the ability to go to school. It’s just because they had low resources not many people could go to, so they allowed boys to go. And there was a moment while we were building. I said to my host father, ‘Would it be OK if your wife and daughters go to school? And he told me, yes, because I asked. And then I just immediately cried. And that moment I realized that we can always make a difference in others’ lives, no matter how big or how small,” Says Harp.
Having held over 10 positions throughout his time at Southern, he has always felt the need to uplift marginalized voices.
“I think about me, I have to be an activist. I’m a young Black, gay man. I’m also Afro-Latino,” says Harp. “My life is always at risk in this country, and I refuse to be silent and watch my community be attacked. Every night
on the evening news attacked on social media and attacked in real life.”
Harp is currently a resident advisor in North Campus, and previously held leadership positions at the NAACP chapter, where he worked with Arpino-Brown. He also helped put on the Black Lives Matter march on campus in the fall semester.
For Harp, activism means to him to raise awareness for change but also about equity.
“Activism for me is looking at equity, not necessarily equality. Because we all don’t need the same thing, and sitting down and saying, ‘OK, this is the lives we all are living,’ says Harp. “Right. How can we make this a better place, not just for ourselves, but for children and figuring out where for you is the best point that you can tackle these issues?”
In the future, Harp hopes to be in a situation where he can help make changes in his community. With his research and his education, he is using his knowledge and experience to better help marginalized groups in his hometown of Bridgeport.
“I see myself enacting change throughout my life in many ways. I think the best way to enact change is by looking at the platform you currently hold and see, ‘How can I make this more inclusive? How could I make this more impactful, stronger?’ And that’s what I plan on doing,” says Harp.
Natalie Jones, senior, political science major
After the 2016 presidential election where Donald Trump won, Jones felt compelled to learn about politics. She says it captivated her and has kept her attention since.
“I wanted to understand it more and I wanted to see how actors like Donald Trump can influence democracy, the whole process and every year you see that unfold more and more. I became a political science major here at Southern and then decided that this is the path I wanted to take,” says Jones.
Over the past summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the protest nationwide, when it came time to make a political statement, she was ready.
“I wanted to be really sensitive and appropriate with putting on a protest in a town that is majority white, and that most people who were going to show up were going to be white. How to do that with respect to the Black Lives Matter movement and community and their protests. It was important to seek out the members in the community who are of color because they exist and hearing their stories and giving them a platform to explain some of their challenges and how they feel in our town,” she says.
Jones, with the help of her friends, put together a march that saw 400 people show up and rally with Jones in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jones adds that she grew up in Clinton, where she claims much of the town is white. According to the state website, the population spreadsheet shows that Clinton has a 90 percent white non-Hispanic population.
She also faced pushbacks from other members of the community who disagreed with her decision to protest. She questioned whether to continue with the event but persisted due to the magnitude of the cause.
“It was definitely important for the people in our town, white or black or brown to stand up for the bigger movement,” Jones explains. “Which is the fact that Black Lives Matter and that we needed to take a stance against police brutality even if our town is a safe small community where we don’t necessarily see those things.”
Jones hopes to attend graduate school in the future and to volunteer for a campaign.
By Kenneth Baah