Controversy erupts between P4BF and Black Student Alliance

Illustration by Demetri Burke

After several weeks of accusations, apologies and action, a tense situation came to stagnation right before winter break between two Georgia State student organizations.

Panthers for Black Feminism released statements addressing their concerns over what they called a “queerphobic” statement said by Black Student Alliance Communication Outreach Chair Alexis Smith: “Being gay impedes the black family.”

Smith had said the statement privately to BSA President Jamila Bell. Shocked by Smith’s statement, she reached out to Ebony Short, cofounder of P4BF, on Oct. 20. Bell had reached out to Short for informal advice and as a friend on how she should proceed.

Short told Bell that Smith would need to be removed from the e-board and that intersectionality would need to be stressed throughout BSA.

Smith was then informed of her removal from the E-board on Nov. 6. Two days later, Nov. 8, Bell told Short of BSA’s plan.

However, nearly three weeks later, Short released a statement on P4BF’s Instagram and Twitter accusing BSA of queerphobia and outlining a list of four demands that BSA were encouraged to complete. The delay in publishing demands was due to Short waiting for BSA to remove Smith.

“I was giving Jamila time to remove Alexis. From the moment she told me to our last phone convo (when she told me she wouldn’t be removed) was a week. And I was working in [the Office of Black Student Achievement] where BSA … is housed. And I wanted to make sure I wasn’t there before I released the statement for my own sanity because e-board members of BSA are in OBSA a lot,” Short said.

The demands called for BSA’s leadership to implement intersectionality training and workshops for all future board members and to take an oath that they would not allow queerphobic or related statements to occur again. They also called for Smith’s complete removal from the board.

On Dec. 4, Short and other P4BF members were joined by the International Socialist Organization at the Speaker’s Auditorium at Student Center East. Inside, BSA was hosting an showcase of black talent on campus, with several students unaffiliated with BSA performing. Whenever the first singer went on stage, Short stood up and began to chant “BSA is queerphobic.”

“As soon as the first act got on stage is when they started screaming. For me, I was confused because why not do that at the very beginning of the event? You waited until the first person got on stage and started singing, and I just thought that was so incredibly disrespectful considering the fact that that person is not even in BSA,” Bell said.

Around 10 of the other protesters began to join them, echoing the chant which evolved into “BSA is queerphobic as f—.”

During the first act, the student kept singing while those who came to support the performers gathered around the stage to obstruct the view of the protesters.

Bell said that the protesters were given ample opportunity to cordially announce their demands on stage during the event, but declined to do so by continuously chanting and shouting.

“Ebony protesting BSA is competing valid and I completely understand them wanting to protest us and I have no issue with that,” Bell said. “I invited Ebony and all of them to come on stage and give them a platform to say their grievances and give their demands.”

The protesting escalated when audience members approached the protesters, talking with them and trying to get them to stop so that other students could perform.

Fearing that violence would ensue between the audience members and the protesters, Bell instructed one of her fellow members to contact campus security to de-escalate the issue.

After about fifteen minutes, security arrived and escorted P4BF and ISO members outside, but not before P4BF caught wind that GSUPD was on their way. Leading up to their removal, they chanted, “BSA just called the police on black people.”

A couple performers and audience members confronted Short and the protesters outside, asking them why they disrupted the performance and stressing the importance of the event to some individuals who may not have had the opportunity to express themselves elsewhere.

Short, in turn, responded to the anger of the performers and audience members by saying that they shouldn’t be supporting BSA at all for the lack of action taken following Smith’s statement.

In response to Short’s statements about GSUPD and how BSA is against black people for calling the police on them, Bell said she was upset that they would make those statements.

“As a black woman, as a leader of Black Student Alliance, I know full and well the history that black people have with the police,” Bell said. “For them to say that was honestly very irritating because they knew exactly what they were saying.”

Contrary to Short’s statements on social media that GSUPD was harassing them and other P4BF and ISO members, Bell said that security handled the situation very well, while also acknowledging that it’s important to hold police accountable when they do actually discriminate or harass black people.

“Campus security was not endangering them in any way. They did not harass them. They were not even yelling at them. They were very relaxed. They were speaking gentle to them. I think that’s important to say.”

The event went on inside as planned after the protesters were removed.

“The protest was really effective,” Short said. “It disrupted people’s peace. It disrupted people’s comfortability and that’s what we wanted.”

Short also said that there were a couple critiques of how P4BF and ISO were treated during and following the protest.

“The first critique is that the police were called. We don’t know who called the police and my critique on that instance is that the president [of BSA] was outside while I … was talking to a cop and the president didn’t try to descale anything,” Short said. “It just really shows how again BSA perpetuates white supremacy by not saying anything to the cops.”

Following the protest, P4BF released a final statement regarding the protest and a relisting of their demands.

Now that winter break is over and the new semester is beginning, P4BF has been silent about BSA.