Sunday afternoon, in the parking lot of Jeffords and Stafford halls at Castleton University, more than 50 people gathered to witness and show their support for the Black Lives Matter flag being raised.
About half the audience was made up of Castleton faculty, staff and their families along with Castleton community members. Little children who attended the event ran free and soaked in the warm weather while their parents tried to calm them down and show them the flag and its importance.
Groups of Castleton students huddled together socially distancing and showing support for their friends.
A mother carried her child up to the base of the pole and explained how this flag symbolizes the change that is needed in this country. She pointed out the importance for us to accept it and the reason it’s needed. The child just looked up at the flag, didn’t say anything for a little bit and then asked if she could go play with her brother.
Before the flag was raised, speakers addressed the importance of having it on campus. Sophomore Raynolds Awusi started by addressing the call for change within the college ranging from the students to the faculty and staff, saying “we all must come together to uphold the (Castleton University) president’s mission of creating a loving and welcoming community.”
Awusi, after the ceremony, said he believes the need for this flag being raised was more significant following a racially motivated negative email sent by another student about the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think that email I received had an impact. I think it woke people up and they saw that we have that as a problem here and that’s the importance to that flag being raised,” Awusi said.
Since then, the email has been shared on multiple social media platforms and Awusi believes it helped further support the need for the flag being raised.
“I felt the need even more for the flag to be raised after seeing that email,” Awusi said.
Domonique Thorne, another speaker on Sunday active in the Black Lives Matter movement, talked about living here for the past 10 years and how the first step toward change is to educate those who don’t know about the movement or don’t agree with it.
Student Government Association President Patrick Lucey spoke about how when people drive by the school and see the flag now, that the first thing he hopes comes into their mind is equality.
And political science professor Rich Clark talked about growing up and explaining that forgiveness was allowed in the Catholic church by confessing your mistakes, something he believes this country has yet to admit and something that is vital to progress from here.
Raphael Okutoro, assistant director of Admissions, spoke about how humanity is not a political statement – but a political right.
And Gillian Galle, associate academic dean, spoke for President Jonathan Spiro, who could not attend, about the inclusivity the flag represents on campus.
Finally, Awusi announced the flag was being raised and all who attended applauded when it ascended and started blowing in the wind. Chatter immediately followed once at full mast. Some attendees talked about the movement, some went to congratulate Awusi and other speakers, and some just chatted with one another about their feelings on the moment.
Lucey spoke of this day being very “powerful.” He said it was personally pretty emotional, but that he was proud to be a part of this important date in history.
“I was not expecting the turnout to be this big,” Lucey said. “I was hoping for it, but it exceeded my expectations and I couldn’t be happier.”
“I think it went really well,” said junior Ellise Ghio.
She said she’s not sure what impact it will have on campus, but she hopes for a positive one.
“I really want to see us (the student body) come together as the community that we pride ourselves so much on having. There’s obviously a split in it that we try to hide but I hope this flag symbolizes change for the university as a whole. I want it to show that we do not stand for racism on this campus,” Ghio said.
Others who showed up also agreed that the flag on campus will hopefully impact others when they drive by.
A Castleton resident who requested to be anonymous said, “When I drive by this flag, I know that we are contributing to a better tomorrow and that when others see this flag, they will know how inclusive Castleton is.”
But Awusi’s main hope for the flag being raised is the impact it has on the college. He hopes that it will attract even more diverse students and staff and let them know we support them.
When asked what he hopes people will think when they drive by and see the flag waving proudly in the wind, he said, “This is a school that cares. This is a school that wants change. This is a school that wants us to be kind to each other.”
The Castleton Spartan will soon be publishing a follow-up story regarding the email and reactions to it.