I was never the college town, big campus type of undergrad: not that it's against my preferences, mind you. I'm just the product of an 850 person student body surrounded by a primarily conservative retirement destination/MTV reality show set (Siesta Key, we see you). This is all to say that for the several times I got lost on Cornell's campus, our day of filming was still one of the highlights of our trip as a whole.
We had until midday before meeting Jaren again, so we decided to poke around and see what we could film a bit early. This led us to the Gantt Center: Clemson's center for diversity and inclusion programming/resources named after their first ever enrolled African American student Harvey Gantt. Somehow this was where we ran into our first conundrum of potentially recording an interview with staff that could end up becoming a legal hazard. Turns out it would happen at the public university and not the private ones like I originally expected. Go figure.
We left and decided the project would be better off catching a students-only perspective instead (i.e. the school closed before they could check us out). Once again, Clemson defied my expectations: I didn't think randomly pulling over students and asking them to talk race relations with us would go over too swimmingly, but lo and behold my novice showed. Students happily acquiesced to having us interrupt their library study sessions so they could get filmed. Most of our first group of subjects, however, turned out to be freshman or sophomore students.
It was interesting to catch an opinion from them - while responses obviously varied, most came in knowing full and damn well what they signed up for and had varying degrees of interest in their Vice President's case. As Jaren himself would later attest to: Clemson is so large that you didn't have to be in the know if you didn't care to. Of course that's what the prosecutors would be counting on to carry out their agenda, with all the most pertinent information left behind closed doors.
Eventually, and unbeknownst to us at the time, we would find ourselves at Clemson's third annual See the Stripes Festival, an arts celebration presented by the Clemson graduate student government. The multicultural display was founded by A.D. Carson, a former student himself who now lays claim to the dopest job title of all time as a professor of Hip-Hop studies at the University of Virginia. Naturally we didn't want to miss this opportunity: we quickly re-did yesterday's walkthrough with Jaren for the cameras before we lost daylight before entering their Tillman Auditorium for the big event.
Personally, it was a reminder of the L I took by not going to an HBCU in the first place. We caught a jovial step routine from a local fraternity, heard some anonymous angel absolutely SLAY a Nina Simone cover (dear singing stranger: if you somehow reading this, you stopped my heart fam), and interviewed the graduate student body president Courtney Allen. Above all else this was the heartwarming scene of the Clemson trip, as a Jaren easily moved through the room full of students of color with greetings, smiles and good times all around.
Afterwards, though, we caught interviews with students Khayla Lloyd and Jacovia Cherry, two students with firsthand perspectival experience of Jaren's case. Both were black student leaders with front row views of Jaren's trial, with Khayla being a leader in her campus's Pan-Hellenic council and Jacovia being one of the voting student senators in the trial. Though legalities of the(somehow) still ongoing battle for Jaren's job prevented me from getting too much of their direct involvement disclosed, an interesting dynamic was uncovered where Jaren's prosecutors unsuccessfully tried to leverage the #MeToo movement in their favor, making several unfounded claims and attacks on Jaren's character. Little did they know, it was a transparent attempt as women both in and outside of the Senate saw through the attempt as little more than a painfully falsified reinforcement of the "Southern Black Predator" trope, much like the same condemnation that cost Emmet Till his life.
Finally, the time came to get our official sit down with the man of the hour. Sitting in the same Student Government building that was at once his and his detractor's domain, we finally got the whole ugly truth of Jaren's case straight from the source. In short, it all started when he and his running mate Killian McDonald upended the favorites in Clemson's presidential elections and took an upset victory, winning with 56% of the vote. This upset the Tiger Brotherhood, Clemson's own "Skull and Bones" secret-society-of-sorts who would have normally seen their candidates take an unquestioned W. Worse enough, they lost to a white woman-black man ticket? Jaren unknowingly committed a cardinal sin in the PWI Bible.
Carrying on with his own mission, Jaren then led the successful "Clemson Takes a Knee" campaign, where he and other supporters took the opposite of a stand in support of Colin Kaepernick's ongoing beef with NFL officials over his peaceful protest in the name of countless injustices suffered by African Americans at the hands of police departments across the country. Now would also be a great time to mention Clemson's other deep pride besides its Southern lineage: football. Given the three different signs we saw off the highway on the way to the campus shouting out the Clemson football team's 2016 National Championship victory, this wasn't going to end well.
According to Jaren, though, the impeachment was due with or without the knee. His official charge was due to an incident that occurred during his tenure as an RA the previous year. From the outside looking in, this looked phony to me to begin with: the aforementioned incident was both solved internally long before Jaren ever decided to run for office and had nothing to do with his ability to serve the Clemson student body. Regardless, the impeachment began and Jaren had little else to do but brace himself.
The trial ended up making national headlines, being covered by not only Clemson's internal press outlets but DailyMail, InsideHigherEd and other various circles. Putting on as best of a face as he could whilst balancing his other responsibilities (namely as a Rugby player, Fraternity president and everyday student with academic goals), Jaren found support from students of color and allies across the campus whilst the white male majority Senate set out to bury him. It was clear to see the conflict of interest as Senate meetings were packed with his supporters like never before. Some were escorted out as the first ever "enforcements of the room's fire code".
Ultimately, the vote to officially remove Jaren from office took place when he wasn't even on campus, as he traveled to Washington DC in the very same capacity as VP they sought to remove him from. Jaren credits the trial's failure to the voice of a Senator who, as a feminist dedicated to intersectionality in her politics, saw through the attempt to vilify Jaren and shot down the false narrative of #MeToo being his downfall. As a matter of fact, everyone's politics came front and center at a campus most notably politically apathetic at face value: conservative outlets tried hard to oppose Jaren, the Senate passed several liberal resolutions leading up to the trial as a "how could we be racist if..." alibi, and few Senators of color watched as Jaren's cries of his "social lynching" were validated before their very eyes. The vote ultimately failed by two votes thanks to six abstentions on the ballot, as the final resolution saw 40 votes in favor of impeaching Jaren. The <20 votes not to impeach eerily correlate to the number of students of color on the Senate.
Regardless of the continued digs against him to this day that Jaren faces from the veiled Brotherhood, he still plans to continue his pathway to US presidency. He has decided not to rerun and will spend his senior year in Argentina in a study abroad program completing his Spanish major.
The day felt heavy after the interview, but lo and behold Jaren and Lauren offered us a going away present of attending his frat's pledge acceptance party. We'll say it was for the sake of dedication to our film (and litness) that Eduardo and I decided to take them up on the offer and attended our first ever frat party, which itself came with a set of highlights we unfortunately couldn't catch on film, including:
- Drunken white women introducing themselves to me as "snow bunnies."
- These same drunken white women trying to assert to me that I indeed loved snow bunnies.
- A missing cutscene where Eduardo, explaining our project to an onlooker, had "Snow Bunny #1" slide into the conversation with a resoundingly nasal "...Minorities? I have strong feelings." (not sure why but aight)
- It's cool though, because he was reassured by his initial onlooker with a slurred "I may not support everything y'all are doing, but good job on getting out there and doing it."
- Spent the next morning looking for my keys in the woods and wondering why I make the life decisions I do.
All in all, our South Carolina trip was a blast and a half and we still got as safely lit as we could at the party regardless. In the end, hearing a story like Jaren's all day helps you shrug off the small stuff. But bullet pointing our final interactions at the two day mark/literally our first social outing with the Clemson student body at large kind of serves as a good reminder why I set out to make this film in the first place. As Clarece Polk at American warned us literally the day before:
"As a person of color, your presence [in white spaces] will always be political."