Students Wear Hoodies As Part of National Protest
Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 01:11
Most days, wearing a hooded sweatshirt means it is a particularly cold morning.
Last Friday, March 30, however, this outfit choice represented much more. In an effort to send a message of solidarity to the family of Trayvon Martin, who was wearing a hoodie when he died, Tess Waggoner ’13 organized Hoodie Day, a last-minute social justice event. Waggoner intended to make a gesture toward the family of a teenager whose controversial death has captivated the nation.
Waggoner “noticed a void in the discourse on campus … there seemed to be a lot of people who weren’t even aware of a lot of these racially-charged incidents that were all over the news I was consuming,” she said. “It was very impulsive.”
Participation on the day was hard to gauge, especially since last Friday morning was chilly, Waggoner said. “Some people just wear hooded sweatshirts because they like hooded sweatshirts,” she said. “It was a kind of cold morning, so it’s hard to know [what turnout was], but people definitely noticed and people knew people were wearing hoods for a reason.” Waggoner also collected a total of 172 signatures in support of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2011.
Despite its last-minute nature, the hoodie event caused controversy online. The Kenyon Observer, a biweekly publication that publishes student-written articles on national and local political issues, published an article on the topic by Matthew Hershey ’13 on its blog.
Hershey’s article prompted a 17-comment debate between students and non-students alike when he compared Hoodie Day to “the widespread viral sharing of the KONY 2012 video on Facebook and other social media.” Hershey said participating in Hoodie Day was much the same as clicking the “Like” button on Facebook: “Wearing a hoodie around a college campus might show solidarity with the Martin family or even show support for ending racial biases in America, but it ultimately achieves very little. Yes, you will make a statement, for what that’s worth, but will simply really wearing a sweatshirt bring real change?”
Hershey said his article was not meant to discourage students from participating in Waggoner’s event. “The argument was never to not have Hoodie Day,” he said. “It was to maybe do it, but protest in other ways as well ... you might want to consider donating to the [American Civil Liberties Union] or the [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] or an organization that has proven records of bringing change. I think [that] was sort of misunderstood.”
Waggoner said Hoodie Day was about more than just solidarity with the Martin family. In a response to Hershey on her personal blog, Waggoner cited several racially-charged incidents from the past few weeks as reasons to pay attention to social justice in the media and at Kenyon. “Fox commentator Geraldo Rivera noted this week, ‘I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was,’” Waggoner wrote.
Hoodie Day was not a Kenyon-specific event, but rather a national movement with senators, representatives and even members of the Miami Heat donning hoodies to show support for Martin’s family. Rebecca Chowdhury ’13, who helped organize the Kenyon event with Waggoner, said, “I thought [Hoodie Day] would be a great way to coordinate with those acts of solidarity, especially on a campus like Kenyon where social justice isn’t as big of a presence as some other things are … it wasn’t something that everyone was talking about, and I feel like after Hoodie Day it did enter the discourse.”
Professor of Religious Studies Vernon Schubel, who provided faculty support for the event, said social justice events such as Waggoner’s provide an important perspective to Kenyon students. “For students who want to, they can forget about these sorts of things. This [event] is important because it allows for a window into issues and makes them real and not just about some sort of abstraction. In the smallest of ways, events like these first show solidarity and then make the next leap and the most important leap which is for students to think: if I became convinced that social justice is part of what I want to be engaged in, what else can I do?”