Art installation promotes dialogue on gun violence

On Sept. 9, Amnesty International lined 250 empty chairs across Miller Lawn to symbolize the number of seats left empty for the start of the school year due to gun violence. Each chair held the name of a student killed within a one-year period after the horrific elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Outside the Pugh center, another ten chairs represented ten young men killed by police violence in the U.S. this past year.

Both visual representations were set up to highlight the issues of gun and police violence throughout the U.S. and to promote the Diversity Dialogue Dinner on the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot this past August in Ferguson, Missouri.

Amnesty International leader Aquib Yacoob ’15 spoke about the chair exhibit and dinner as opportunities to open up a dialogue around these issues of violence: “There’ve been a lot of conversations—rallies, protests, demonstrations—we’re hoping to build on that momentum to continue those conversations in a progressive way and a productive way here at Colby,” Yacoob said.

The Pugh Center hosted the dinner along with Amnesty International. Other groups, including CCOR, SOBHU, MOKA, GQ and the Feminist Alliance partnered together for the event as well. For Yacoob, the dinner provided an important space to engage in dialogue and questioning about the intersection between race and police violence: “What does it mean when a police officer kills an unarmed black kid? What does that mean for us, as a nation and a society?” he said.

The chair exhibit and dinner are just two events out of many that Amnesty International has planned for this year. Amnesty’s theme of the year is discrimination, a “wide umbrella” Yacoob said, enabling the club to explore a variety of issues including discrimination based on race, gender, age and citizenship. The related and interconnected issues of gun violence, police brutality and the criminalization of men of color are also major focuses for Amnesty.

To keep the dialogue on gun violence going, Amnesty International has invited the Executive Director of Million Hoodies, Dante Barry to speak on campus. The organization was created after the death of Trayvon Martin and works to spread awareness about gun violence. “They were able to mobilize over a million activists online to say this is an important issue and to start to enact change around discrimination policies, criminalization and gun violence in the U.S,” Yacoob said. Barry will talk about discrimination moving beyond Ferguson and how to continue the conversation moving forward.

The event will take place on September 18, at 7 p.m. in Page Commons and is open to everyone. Amnesty is promoting the event in Waterville and neighboring towns in hopes of engaging the local community. Including the surrounding area in the conversation is particularly important after just a few weeks ago, the Morning Sentinel posted a front-page article on a local candidate for Waterville City Council who had been organizing rallies in support of the police officer who killed Michael Brown. “This is a conversation that needs to go beyond our campus, and I think we as students can be agents to take that outwards and engage in this dialogue” Yacoob said.

The administration has been “incredibly supportive” Yacoob said, with funding and other aid for Pugh Center events. Typically, structures are not allowed on the quad, but Yacoob received permission from the President’s Office to put the chairs there with no questions asked. “This is one of the things that excites me the most about Colby. You’re a student and you have an idea, you plant the seed, and you have the support.”

Yacoob hopes these events on gun violence will introduce more students to the Pugh Center and help them view the Center as a welcoming and safe place to discuss a variety of issues. “I really hope that this event and this series of events can serve to welcome our larger community into the Pugh Center. This is a space for these kinds of conversations, a safe space for everyone on campus and a space that everyone should be encouraged to come and discuss these issues that are relevant not only in our society but in our everyday lives.”

Most importantly for Yacoob is that these important conversations, particularly on gun violence, maintain their momentum. “I feel at Colby we often host big events, we bring great speakers, we talk about something for one evening, we have dinner with that person, it’s great to get fired up, we get excited and then we move on to topic number two of the year. I don’t want that to happen.”

In order to keep the dialogue going, Campus Conversationd On Race (CCOR) will provide opportunities in its weekly meetings to continue discussions on gun violence. Yacoob hopes these conversations will expand to discuss not only gun violence committed against black men, but also issues of gun violence surrounding women and suicide.

The first CCOR meeting proved a huge success and set the tone for further discussions on gun violence this year. Yacoob said, “I walked away from that meeting, [with] my mind blown and open in so many ways. I was able to see the [issues] in so many different lights that I hadn’t before. That’s the importance of dialogue. We need that.”

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