By Angela Roberts
On Aug. 30 at 12:05 p.m., students and faculty joined their counterparts at Bowie State University for a moment of silence to honor the memory of Lt.Richard Collins III, a young man whose life was cut tragically short in an instance of senseless violence.
Although they recognized the gravity of this moment of unity, socialist organizations on campus believe that simply engaging in quiet reflection will not combat the hatred that led to Collins’ murder – they are mobilizing to fight for a more tangible item of remembrance.
“We believe that there should be a monument,” said junior civil engineering major Brendan Sullivan of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). “We believe that it is essential to put forward exactly what happened that night: that Richard Collins was murdered by Sean Urbanski, a University of Maryland student and a known member of white supremacist groups.”
The Democratic Socialist Association (DSA) stands with the ISO on this matter.
“The DSA and the ISO’s stance on building a memorial are just about the same,” said senior anthropology major Erin Oakes. “Yes, it should definitely be built. It should have why he died. We should know why it’s there.”
Both groups have also stated their support for a monument that is “explicitly political.”
“[We need] one that is not essentially going to be just a statue in a few years’ time – a piece of bronze that’s just in some place without any context,” said Sullivan. “Socialists stand against all forms of bigotry and all forms of oppression. The murder of Richard Collins is a particularly heinous act, and it was committed by a person on the right who felt that he had the right to kill what seems to be the first black man he saw that night.”
Oakes fears that the monument may eventually blend into the general landscape of the university if its significance is not overtly stated.
“People will forget why this student died and the fact that it was a University of Maryland student who killed him – something that I’m sure the administration would be more than happy to have disappear,” she said.
When contacted about President Loh’s position on the erection of a monument for Collins, Chief Communications Officer Katie Lawson answered with a prepared response.
“The university has received preliminary consent to begin discussions regarding a memorial on campus to honor Lt. Collins, pending further discussions with his family,” said the statement.
Neither socialist organizations were satisfied by Lawson’s statement.
“It’s toneless,” said junior computer science and government and politics major Tommy Hegarty of the DSA. “It’s not that it’s tone-deaf, because it’s perfectly respectful…it’s just very tenuous and temporary. The office did not make any statement condemning these kinds of hateful beliefs. When you have this paragraph [in the statement] talking about building a monument, but you don’t tell students why you’re building a monument, it’s kind of lacking.”
Not all members of the ISO are in favor of a statue.
“He got killed with Frederick Douglass on campus,” said junior history major Ronnie Lyles, referring to the statue outside Hornbake Library on the university’s campus. “It’s not going to do anything. And it’s going to get defaced eventually.”
However, Sullivan does not believe that the significance of the monument would lie within its mere existence.
“A monument itself is not the most political of things, but the coalitions built around it can build the ability to fight white supremacy and to fight racism,” he said.
Oakes sees the monument as a potential rallying point for social justice protests.
“It could be a place where anti-fascists meet or for any marches to meet at,” she said.
Although both the DSA and the ISO are prepared to campaign for a monument that fully represents the events that led to Collins’ death, they do not wish to be the face of the movement.
“We are wary of speaking out over those whose voices need to be heard more,” said Hegarty.
Oakes and Sullivan fervently agree and recognize that Collins’ family should have the ultimate say in the design and construction of the monument.
“In the end, it was their son who died,” said Oakes. “He was not overtly political. He was not here for a political reason. He was here to be with friends. It wasn’t him who made his death political. It was the a**hole who killed him. If his parents want to keep this as a private thing, we have a responsibility to adhere to [their wishes] – to not push this, to not make a martyr out of somebody who was a human being.”