Outraged University of Mary Washington junior Channon Fulton launched a week-long protest on Monday at the university’s fountain and in her classes to spread racism awareness, painting her visible skin from head to toe in red body paint and holding a “Racism is Real” sign on campus walk.
Fulton told on-looking students that she has been protesting the lack of media coverage of the alleged West Virginia rape and kidnapping of 20-year-old, African-American Megan Williams.
“I just want people to be aware of modern day racism and the treatment of African-Americans and racial issues in the media,” said Fulton. “If the media won’t tell them, I will. I just want them to be aware and feel the pain that I feel.”
For Black Student Alliance (BSA) vice president Fulton, the Megan Williams incident hits too close to home.
“This is my reality living as a 20-year-old black woman,” said Fulton. “It’s frightening and wrong to me that this can go on hours away from where I live – that could have been me and I have to live with it.”
The same day Fulton protested at the university fountain, members of BSA and Brothers of the New Direction (BOND) passed out flyers throughout the campus with facts about Megan Williams and her captors to raise awareness in UMW students. Last week, supportive BSA members and students made cards for Williams that will be sent to her directly.
“We want to raise campus-wide awareness for this event because not nearly enough people know about it,” said BSA president Kiama Anthony. “We’re trying to reach out to [Williams] and we’re hoping that this may unify the campus in general and bring all the races and ethnicities and genders together. Racism does still exist even if it’s not really evident on this campus.”
While some students at Fulton’s protest had heard of the incident, many had not or had only heard recently, though Megan Williams was rescued over two weeks ago.
Sophomore Molly Driggers said she had never read about Williams or seen coverage on television, but heard about it through a classmate only a few days ago.
“I heard about it in my sociology class,” said Driggers. “We were talking about social problems and racism and this came up when someone brought in an article about it. Not a lot of other people knew about it…it’s important that people spread awareness so it doesn’t happen all over.”
Megan Williams, a Charleston, WV resident, was coaxed to a trailer in Logan County, WV, where she was allegedly beaten, raped, forced to drink from a toilet, eat dog and rat feces and was cut to prevent escape from six Caucasians, who are now facing kidnapping charges.
BSA and BOND are currently scrutinizing William’s case coverage compared to that of the recent Jena 6 case, an incident in which six African-American teens were originally charged with second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy for beating a white student, who had previously hung nooses with two others at Jena High School. The three Caucasian students received a reprimand of school suspension for the alleged hate crime.
While Williams’ case has received little national protest, Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III and thousands of supporters marched in Jena, Louisiana to convey their resentment toward what they believed to be unjust punishment for both groups of students involved in the Jena 6 case.
Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, media scholar and UMW Associate professor of Political Science and International Affairs, says the lack of coverage for Williams and the increased coverage for the Jena 6 case stems from selectivity in support.
“The Jena Six case became a major media event when leading African-American political figures made the trek to demonstrate about what was going on,” said Farnsworth. “But even in that case, we’re talking about an event that occurred six months ago but they only really burst onto public attention and public consciousness in the last few weeks after the African-American leadership made a deliberate effort to draw media attention to that story.”
Farnsworth also believes that the lack in Williams’ media coverage is caused by a racial bias in major media sources.
“There’s a clear racial disparity,” said Farnsworth. “The truth is, you could probably ask 10 people on this campus if they know who [Williams] is and people won’t know the story but people will know who some of the white victims were when their stories were being told.”
“Business is driving a lot of these decisions,” said Farnsworth. “Because of this, the media have disproportionately paid attention to stories that they think will be bringing white middle-class eyes to their newscast. As a result, certain stories get covered a lot more than others even though they’re very similar.”
Fulton and the members of BSA and BOND will be continuing their protests throughout the week with red paint and flyers. If students are interested in contacting Megan Williams with cards or supportive words, they are encouraged to contact Channon Fulton or the Black Student Alliance through OSACS.