After police murdered Breonna Taylor on March 13 and George Floyd on May 25, the world is in mourning and young Black folks, primarily high school and college students, are on the front lines of the call for justice.
We can all recognize their strength when we see these students speak, organize and lead tens of thousands through the streets. We can recognize the strength it takes to pour their hearts and minds into community action while simultaneously processing grief, hurt, anger and fear. We must also recognize that for students across the country, especially students of color, now is not a time to be worried about school.
Students are changing the world every day. Don’t make them take finals too.
A student-organized march in Oakland brought 15,000 people into the streets on June 1. Students in Minneapolis led a march of 12,000 on June 2, the same day students from Los Feliz High led a march of over 4,000 through Hollywood. In Maryland, Black high school students organized a march through Bethesda and shared testimonies about their experiences with racism in their district.
The list goes on. It is clear that right now students should be focused on the work that needs to be done outside the classroom.
On June 1 The People’s Coalition at UC Santa Cruz sent out a campuswide petition to cancel all spring assignments and finals and grant all students A grades, in order to better allow students to fully commit to organizing and demonstrating against police brutality.
The Black Student Union at UCSC spoke to the urgency of the current moment in a June 2 email with the subject line, “The Unrelenting Anti-Blackness of 2020.” The email acknowledged that, in addition to Nina Pop, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, Black students are mourning the disproportionate number of Black lives lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We write today because for us as Black people the weight of all the fear, sorrow, uncertainty and hardship of a global pandemic is magnified tenfold as we are tragically reminded of the underlying prejudice and inequality that underscores American life — inequality that affects not only our daily lives and increases our likelihood of becoming sick, but how or if we are able to receive care when we do,” the email said.
The email also called into question a May 29 statement from Chancellor Cynthia Larive on George Floyd’s death, citing her historic lack of communication with and support for the African/Black/Caribbean community and demanding transformative action from administration in the form of seven demands.
We’re living in a time where young people must be regarded as people before they are regarded as students. We have every right to express our anger and frustration by partaking in the fight against racism, police brutality and a corrupt government. For institutions of learning to still see us as just students is completely contradictory to their purpose: preparing us for the world at large — a world that will be uninhabitable if we don’t act now with our complete attention.
The world is transforming fast, and our institutions have to keep up. For many of us, sirens and curfew warnings are the new norm. We’re spending our days in the streets, and some of us are recovering from rubber bullets and tear gas.
We’re studying the history of Black liberation movements. We’re studying protester rights. We’re studying how to tell when the cops are closing in to arrest us. We’re studying anti-racism.
In a country rapidly deploying military force against the people, finals are low on the list of priorities. Our place right now is with our communities, not our classrooms.