Police called on Black students studying, socializing in Moody Memorial Library

A security guard called the police on a group of Black students socializing on the garden level of Moody Memorial Library Wednesday night. Sarah Pinkerton | Photographer

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

A group of Black students were studying and socializing on the ground floor of Moody Memorial Library when the Baylor Police Department was called on them Wednesday.

Aurora, Colo., junior Sam Onilenla said the plan that evening was to allow Black underclassmen and upperclassmen to get to know each other better. According to Onilenla, while they were hanging out in the library, a security guard, not a BUPD officer, came downstairs and said there was a noise complaint.

“He walked up to a group of freshmen and said, ‘This is not a basketball arena. This is a study area,’” Onilenla said.

DeSoto freshman Jonah Shaw said he went up to the security guard to try and educate him on why comparing a group of Black students’ noise level to a “basketball arena” was offensive.

“Two of my peers came up to talk to the man as well and ask about the situation,” Shaw said. “Then the man said he was calling back-up, and then he walked away from us. One of my peers was trying to ask him what the problem was. He ignored us and continued walking up the steps. At the top of the steps, he said he was calling Baylor PD.”

Woodbury, Minn., junior Runo Egi said they kept asking why the security guard called the police, but he never gave a solid answer.

Onilenla said they had to explain to the police officer the entire situation and how the ground floor of Moody is where students normally socialize, and there are other areas of the library designated for silence.

Onilenla said the police officer called Shaw’s attempt to educate the security guard “juvenile.” Eventually the officer left, and Egi said he didn’t understand why he had been called either.

“After that we went back downstairs, but the vibe wasn’t the same,” Egi said. “Everyone was kind of upset. A whole bunch of people left. It was kind of just like, dang, that ruined the mood in the study space.”

Port Arthur senior Tarshyana Hall said via email she was disappointed but not surprised by the incident.

“I was walking out of the building when I saw the police, and it hit me that we are not safe anywhere,” Hall wrote. “The situation could’ve easily turned any one of my peers into a hashtag because we were talking.”

Shaw said he didn’t understand why the situation escalated, but they remained respectful to protect themselves.

“We know what’s expected,” Shaw said. “We’re taught when we’re little about how to handle these situations. The fact that we have to be taught how to handle these situations, I think that says a lot as well.”

Red Oak senior Chloe Muñoz said she was working at the Moody desk while this was all happening. She said this group of students was no louder or bigger than any other she had seen while working.

“It just bothers me because I don’t understand why the police were called in when they are just standing around and talking and studying,” Muñoz said. “I’ve seen sororities come down here and have little study groups all the time, and it gets pretty loud, too … But why when a group of Black students tries to do the same thing suddenly, ‘Oh, no, we’re in danger. I’ve never seen this many Black students gathered on campus before. I feel threatened.’ That’s the vibe that I got.”

According to a Moody library security guard working a shift Friday afternoon, the security staff at the library is employed through BUPD, and they undergo “lots” of diversity, Title IX and CPR training, among others.

After the incident, Onilenla took to social media, releasing a statement calling Baylor to action and two videos displaying their interactions with the security guard and Baylor police officer.

In the post, which has garnered over 3,300 likes, Onilenla called out several groups of people, saying that they were to blame for “Baylor being uncomfortable for its students of color.”

“First, the Board of Regents,” Onilenla wrote in his post. “The people who run this university hear our cries over and over again, but they fail to do anything in the name of white power. Second, the ignorant adults. The ignorant adults who do not understand this is 2021, and whether you like it or not, us Black students are on this campus and we will have an impact here. Educate yourselves because it is not our job to educate you.”

In the coming weeks, the Board of Regents will hear presentations from members of the Commission on Historic Campus Representations. Baylor also released a diversity video last semester.

Baylor also has a commitment to diversity and inclusion on its website:

“In line with this mission, we seek to embody Christ’s teachings of love and inclusivity across boundaries of racial, ethnic, gender, socio-economic, religious, and other expressions of human difference. Because, at Baylor, ‘Love thy neighbor’ are not just words…they are a way of life.”

Onilenla said the students on Baylor’s campus also play a big role in the continued racism he and his peers face.

“Why do you give us dirty looks when you see masses of Black people coming together in a study environment?” Onilenla wrote in his post. “Do we scare you? Does our skin color make you uncomfortable?”

Onilenla wrote in his post that this movement is fueled by his Christian faith.

“Too many Black scholars before us risked their lives to attend this university because they understood the prestige of this university,” Onilenla wrote in his post. “We are committed to pioneering the way for the next Black students who decide that Baylor offers the best for them. We are committed to creating a community for Black students on campus who do not feel as if Baylor provides them a home. We are committed to making good trouble because it is necessary.”

In response to the situation, Baylor released a statement to the Lariat Thursday evening:

“We strive to be a welcoming community on our campus as part of our Christian mission, and over the past year, we have made a strong commitment to doing better and being better. In this instance, there was a cultural disconnect, and we simply missed the mark. We understand changes need to be made in how we treat and respect others within the Baylor Family, and we must further the important conversations related to race and cultural understanding on our campus.”

Dean for Student Development Dr. Elizabeth Palacios said via email that over her almost 39 years at Baylor, she has seen change, even if it has been slow.

“It will take difficult and uncomfortable words and actions to keep us on this track,” Palacios said via email. “Are we doing enough? There is always more to do. As I often quote to my students, ‘diversity is being invited to the dance, inclusivity is being asked to dance, and equity is getting to help choose the music.’ I have faith and hope that Baylor will continue to move forward on diversity, inclusivity, and equity for our students, faculty, and staff.

Egi said she doesn’t have faith that things will get better for Black students at Baylor.

“I’m slightly discouraged in propelling efforts going forward to reconcile the negative racial atmosphere that we have on campus, just because I feel like things keep happening,” Egi said.

Houston senior Lexy Bogney, Baylor NAACP president and member of the commission on historic campus representations, said via email she was disappointed to see this incident occur right before Black History Month — a time to celebrate Black culture and accomplishments.

“Unfortunately, I am not all surprised by what took place, as Baylor has a continuous history of poor treatment against their Black students,” Bogney said. “In my three years as a student, I would love to say that I’ve seen a substantial amount of progress when it comes to remedying these issues, but from what I can tell, only minor progress has been made, and judging by these past events, it’s clear that progress is not a priority.”

Little Rock, Ark., senior Gabie Pointer, president of Delta Sigma Theta, said she wants more than a blanket statement from Baylor.

“I feel like Baylor should just call it what it is, and it’s just internalized racism,” Pointer said. “I don’t think that that would have happened to people who were not people of color or Black … I just feel like Black students on Baylor’s campus are received naturally as aggressive first and then shown kindness on the back end.”

Houston junior Maddie Walkes, president of the Baylor chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, said there hasn’t truly been progress if these same issues keep happening.

“President Livingstone or the administration can continue to say … the same thing over and over again, but if the people who go here don’t actually change what’s in their hearts to treat Black people, Hispanic people, Asian people with the same respect as they treat their white peers, it’s not going to be anything different,” Walkes said.

Repeated attempts were made to secure interviews with BUPD and the Campus Security Authority, but The Lariat was never granted access.