As a Resident Assistant, a Student Government Association Officer, and President of the Civil Rights Club, Brinet Rutherford ’16 is all about listening to and unifying others. A double major in UB’s International Political Economy and Diplomacy (IPED) and Social Science programs, Brinet lends her ears, eyes, and voice to bringing her peers of varying opinions and cultural backgrounds together towards peace, collaboration, and social justice.
Her heart’s desire? “I wish I could see more unity on campus,” says Brinet, who on the same note points out that, “As college students, this is the only time of our lives that we can protest and no one is going to fire you from your job. It’s the time to become empowered and take a stand.”
UBecome sat down with Brinet whose voice on why the Civil Rights Club at UB matters came in clear and strong. Her interview follows.
Our mission is to bring together students from diverse races, genders, and sexual orientation to discuss various social justice topics that are affecting our society. Our weekly Thursday meetings are our way of connecting with each other about what’s happening in our own lives and in the world.
For instance, when social media was all abuzz about a group of bullies who tricked an autistic boy into the Ice Bucket Challenge and about another video of a mentally challenged boy getting beaten, we wondered why such horrendous stories go viral. We’ve held talks on gun violence, and how to stray from using words offense to the LGBT community. Recently we paid tribute to NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, and discussed community-police relations. And next week we’ll be holding a program in the Hub to hand out candy and facts about Black History Month.
Overall, we don’t do big things but rather little things that lead to a big message. The purpose of our Club is not to debate, but to have open discussions where everyone’s opinions can be heard. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to listen and try to understand others’ points of view.
In the Fall of 2013, Julian Sampson ’14 started the Civil Rights Club and I began attending the weekly meetings. He saw my interest and effort and asked if I’d like to take on his position when he graduated. When I agreed, he suggested I shadow him to watch what he did, and how he interacted with others and held the meetings. I felt ready to take on the position of President by learning from him.
For me, this Club has really allowed me to learn a lot, but it also allows me to give back. When I hold our weekly meetings or programs, that’s my way of giving back to UB and to our students, and helping them to see things from a different perspective. I love the idea of opening up other people’s minds so they understand that the world is filled with many opinions.
Last year, Bridgeport police officers came to campus for “The 411 on the 50,” and spoke to us on how to appropriately deal with law enforcement if we get stopped or pulled over. In response to the national debate on racial justice and police brutality, we think it’s important to proactively develop a relationship with the local Bridgeport Police Department. They explained that tone of voice is vital – even admitting that a ticket will be lowered or not even given, all depending on tone of voice. Yeah it’s common sense, but some people get anxious and their voice naturally rises, or they get all riled up. The officers also explained to us the difference between being attained and arrested.
Another hit last year was when we went to a Connecticut Youth and College Summit held at Southern Connecticut State University. The goal of that was to have the youth recommit, revive, and react to what’s happening in the community. Senator Chris Murphy spoke, expressing to us that he was the youngest senator in the Senate. He said young people can do anything they set their minds to, so never doubt your ability. He said any of us could do the same thing he did with that attitude.
Earlier this month, five of our members attended the Black History Youth Luncheon at the Bridgeport Holiday Inn. (See Video Below.) The idea was to touch base with the Bridgeport Police Department to see how youth and the police can come together as one, or unite in mutual understanding. I think this is critically important. We need as many people as possible to strengthen relations with police officers so we can get away from the negative connotation that has been associated with the police. The truth is, we need them!
Well specifically, during the upcoming week, we’re hosting a Silent Protest to pay tribute to Trayvon Martin. Students can contact me if interested at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just pop in at the Hub at 12:20 p.m. this Wednesday, February 25th.
Thinking long-term, once we grow in student demand, we can charter the NAACP on campus. This was the vision of the original founders of the Club, and is mine as well. I’d also like to really reach out to the international community to collaborate and possibly co-host programs in North Hall so we can touch a bigger fan base on campus. I’ve been looking to host discussions under Krystyna Stefak, the Residential Director of North Hall, where our international community resides on campus.
Finally, my personal hope for this Club is that our members uphold high standards, high morals, and respect in all that they do so we can continue to fight for the change we want to see in this world. For others to respect us, we need to be respectful of others.