Activist students at the University of Nevada, Reno, carried out a rogue banner drop in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center on Thursday, March 1, in a show of solidarity between Dreamer and African-American students and to protest the marginalization of minority voices on campus.
Just before noon, a high-pitched alarm rang and two banners were flung over the railings of the Knowledge Center’s third floor, hanging above its lobby, reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Clean Dream Act Now!”
At the same time, fliers reading “We are so much more than just our economic value” and “Keep the Dreamers, deport the racists” were thrown and fluttered down to cover the lobby and atrium.
About 30 students took part in the action, organized by their own initiative and through networks like Nevada Student Power. Few were willing to be identified — wary they might be punished for vandalism or other breaches of the student code of conduct.
According to one of the organizers, a political science senior at UNR, the action was partly a continuation of campus-wide flier campaign for Black History Month.
“[The administration] thought it might be over,” he said. “Black history isn’t one month.”
Its other purpose was to display solidarity between Black Lives Matter and Dreamers, or undocumented immigrants who have been granted temporary protective status by the DACA program.
Rachel, an organizer and senior at UNR, said she was inspired by the energy of the Black History Month fliers and wanted to use it to support Dreamer students.
“Our struggles are different, but we are fighting the same system,” she said.
When acting separately, neither group felt like it was being heard, so they came together for the drop. Many of the students involved were also responsible for replacing the letters on the window of the Ansari Business Building to read “Think Dreamact.”
Within half an hour after the drop, the banners were taken down. With the exception of a few lost behind chairs, the fliers were cleared too. The activists expected their work to be removed quickly, especially after the removal of fliers and chalk messages left around campus, which they believe was sanctioned by the university administration.
The building operations manager Alden Kamaunu said the Knowledge Center has no problem with students using the library as a space for expression. However, because the drop was not cleared through the administration’s office, it was policy for the materials to be removed immediately.
The Knowledge Center handed the banners over to the campus police services for holding, and have said they don’t know who carried out the drop and weren’t going to take further action. The fliers were put in a box and placed under the front information desk of the Knowledge Center. They are freely available for anyone to take if you know to ask for them.
“I like the message, but I don’t think it was the right place,” said an African-American student who witnessed the drop. Though she did not take part she also did not want to be identified, saying she also feared repercussions. “We already have a bad name for being disruptive, and it didn’t help.”
Despite this reputation, going through official channels didn’t seem like an option to the students.
“No one thought to ask permission,” said one of the student organizers, Grey Henson. “Activists don’t need permission.”
The students involved universally felt it was necessary for the banner drop to be an act of civil disobedience. None believed the library would have allowed the banners if they asked permission first, and felt if the university really did support the voices of its students of color, the banners would have been left up longer. Instead of staying silent, Anijah Boyd, another student organizer, said students’ response isn’t going to be fear or vulnerability.
“We can speak for ourselves and be heard,” she said.
Gabriel Foster can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.