For the past few months, a group of students and professors have been on Toomer’s Corner holding a sign with a simple message: Stop Racism Now. The Toomer’s Corner Sit-In serves as an awareness and community-building campaign that is led by Auburn students and faculty. One student, Taylor Gusler, sophomore in organismal biology, has been involved since this summer.
“I started getting involved over the pandemic,” Gusler said. “After that, I did more research and got more involved over time.”
This summer saw a series of protests across the country stemming from the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, including protests in Auburn and Opelika. While the large-scale protests may have died down, many believe the issues that were brought up have not been resolved.
According to Gusler, the goal of the Toomer’s Corner Sit-In is “to raise awareness and start a conversation within the community.”
The conversation has recently shifted towards Governor Kay Ivey’s new prison plan, which includes three new prisons in Alabama. Gusler mentioned Alabama Students Against Prisons, who opposes this plan. Alabama Students Against Prisons has also peacefully protested on the University’s campus in recent weeks.
Gusler also spoke on some of the issues Auburn’s campus faces, citing “performative allyship” and apathy as two problems here at Auburn.
“People don’t always think about how their actions contribute to problems and don’t do their research on how things affect other people,” Gusler said.
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According to Gusler, this issue of willful ignorance causes students to inadvertently contribute to issues like microaggressions. Gusler said the solution is “listening to minority students and educating yourself,” and this also extends to the administration.
“The administration should include minorities and undergrads when dealing with these issues on campus,” Gusler said.
The goal of the Toomer’s Corner Sit-In has been to create conversations and educate students, faculty, and community members so that these issues can begin to be solved.
On Saturday, March 27, the Toomer’s Corner Sit-In celebrated its 300th day in a row on Toomer’s Corner. The celebration was marked by a packed day in downtown Auburn with lots of students, faculty, and even families taking up signs and participating. Local artists also came out to support the group. One artist, Bay Kelley, was offering supplies and free painting lessons to those who came by. Kelley has been a long-time supporter of the group, and is known for his “52 Paintings for 52 Strangers” project in which he sat down and painted portraits of kind strangers he had met. Kelley was painting a portrait of a friend on Toomer’s Corner, and felt a connection between his portraiture and the activism downtown.
“People want to be seen,” Kelley said, pointing around at the scene at Toomer’s Corner.
Kelley’s art was joined by signs calling for an end to racism and calling for conversation and thoughtfulness about how we define and think about racism. These signs were held high by students and faculty who, like Gusler, had similar reasonings for joining the sit-in.
One student, Megan Potuzak, a senior, also started to get more involved in activism after the events of this past summer.
“I knew these issues existed, but I didn’t know how ingrained they were,” Potuzak said.
She also said that getting involved in the Toomer’s Corner Sit-In was a great way for a college student to actively address the issues they care about.
“I didn’t have the money to donate, but I can donate my time,” Potuzak said.
Like other days on Toomer’s Corner, the 300th day was marked by supportive interactions, honks from passing cars in support and conversations between activists and community members. The sit-in maintained a presence throughout the day, with waves and smiles and even a breakout into the Cupid Shuffle at 6 p.m. The Toomer’s Corner Sit-In is dedicated to creating a conversation and positive impact on the Auburn community and does not plan to stop soon.
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