Students Protest Trayvon Martin Killing With Photo Campaign

In response to last month’s killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, students across the University have begun photo campaigns to protest racial profiling.

About 15 residents of Eliot House have photographed themselves wearing hooded sweatshirts alongside questions like, “Is this a ‘black’ problem?” The questions are accompanied by a hashtag that says “#hoodiesup,” referring to the popular Twitter topic commemorating Martin’s death.

Across the river, Harvard Medical School students posed together wearing lab coats and hooded sweatshirts in front of the Longwood campus with the words, “Do I look suspicious?” printed above them.

Martin was shot and killed in February while walking home through a gated community in Sanford, Fla. by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who claimed that he acted out of self-defense. In a 911 call, Zimmerman told authorities that the unarmed teenager appeared to be suspicious.

Though Zimmerman has not been formally charged with any crimes, the shooting has renewed nationwide debates about racial profiling and discrimination.

After attending the rally to raise local awareness about Martin’s death in Harvard Square last month, Nyamagaga Gondwe ’13 said that she was inspired to organize a campaign similar to The Million Hoodies Project in Eliot House. According to their Facebook profile, The Million Hoodies Project asks participants to upload photos of themselves and others wearing hooded sweatshirts in order to “vent, express outrage and support one another in response to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.”

“Imagery is such a poignant and fast way to have a person empathize with what you’re trying to tell them,” Gondwe said. “A picture gives a person who sees it the opportunity to grapple with the situation themselves.”

Gondwe sent an email to other students and tutors in the House explaining why she was interested in The Million Hoodies Project and asking for support.

Pauline Mutumwinka ’12, said the email was “extremely moving” and that it made a compelling case for why, as a black person, she needed to participate.

Mutumwinka said that she hopes the project gets people to think more critically about the problem of racial profiling.

“It’s not something that’s just going to go away,” she said.

The project was particularly meaningful for Eliot House race relations tutor Carl L. Miller. Miller said that he frequently wears hoodies and, as a black man with younger siblings, the Martin shooting really hit home.

“I hope [the project] levels the playing field in terms of how ridiculous it is that wearing a hoodie and happening to be African-American can be thought of as a cause for being followed and assaulted,” Miller said.

Medical School student F. Garrett Conyers organized a similar campaign with his peers to show support for Martin’s family and others who have lost loved ones as a result of racially-motivated violence.

“We realize that taking a picture can’t have this genuine lasting impact on an issue, but to think that if we can even slightly change someone’s worldview makes a difference,” Conyers said.

—Staff writer Melanie A. Guzman can be reached at melanieguzman@college.harvard.edu.

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