Colleges and Universities across the country have been staging protest to show support for the movement, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ This movement was spawned from dissatisfaction with recent Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York.
On December 3rd, UM students held a peaceful protest at the Rock. During the course of this protest, students marched around campus with signs providing information as to why they were protesting. Additionally, they chanted slogans such as “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace.” Student organizer and leader of the Black Lives Matter campaign Guerdiana Thelomar stated that the goal for the first rally was to raise consciousness on the UM campus about what was going on around the country in regards to the systematic and structural oppression of black people in America. “It was sparked by the decision in Ferguson to not indict the officer who murdered Mike Brown,” Thelomar continued. “We wanted to make a statement at UM that we are here, Black people exist, and we matter as well.”
This initial protest was met with backlash throughout the UM community as many students felt as though the protest was an un-welcome interruption to their class time. Additionally, many chose to respond using racial slurs on UMiami Secrets and Yik Yak. Thelomar explained that after the rally the purpose of the Black Lives Matter campaign expanded. Because of all the negative backlash that was received from University of Miami students, alumni and the initial response from the school’s administration, the purpose needed to be amended. It was not only about the larger movement going on around the country. It was now also about addressing the state and social safety of the Black community at UM and the campus climate in regards to diversity and inclusion of Black students.
Despite the negative responses to their first protest, students chose to stage another peaceful protest during final exams. In lieu of a march, students chose to stage a sit in and take over Richter Library. From 11 p.m. to midnight, students entered Richter Library and sat in the area directly behind the turnstiles, making it so that any students who wanted to enter the library would have to walk around them or through the protest. During the hour they were there, the students brought their textbooks and studied. Many brought with them signs that read “studying because they never got to” while others “I got here on merit” in response to claims that the minority students were granted easier admissions processes and are less qualified than their peers.
In the midst of the protest, there were print outs of some of the slurs and racist comments that students posted in response to the protest on December 3rd. Students entering the library, were invited to read the signs and ask those who were protesting what they stood for. This was done in order to establish a dialog between the protesters and general student body, as well as shed light on the racial climate at the University.
In addition to catching the attention of the students studying in Richter, administrators and faculty were in attendance, including a visit from President Shalala.
Students at UM are committed to continually raise awareness of the discrimination, and enact lasting change at the University. Their commitment was enforced the next day when the group “casually met up” at the Student Activities Center during the time Clinton and many other prominent leaders’ visit. The students stood outside silently, not speaking to anyone who approach them, even the police, to “voice” their dissatisfaction.
Sophomore and participant Daija Boyd commented that the silent demo was a literal stand on what the student group believes in with no shouting or yelling so that they could not be accused of being hostile or aggressive. “We were just students gathering to silently disapprove. The cold air in a way symbolized our lack of warmrth towards those who we expected to protect us but rather has been neglecting us.”
Co-organizer Hulya Miclisse-Polat said, “I believe that we have made a significant impact on this campus with the demonstrations that have happened. We wanted the campus community to know that we are here and that we are standing up against police brutality and the injustices our community faces.” Miclisse-Polat went on to say that the demonstrations have not only caught people’s attention, but through direct action, the group has been able to get their voices heard.
“The “study-in” at the library and the silent demonstration at the Future of the Americas summit was aimed at addressing both issues- that Black lives should matter in America and that Black students and their interests should also matter at UM,” said Thelomar. Miclisse-Polat said that it was through visual demonstrations that the group has been able to create some change within the campus community, such as raising awareness of the state of Black Lives in America, as well as the administration addressing racial issues on UM’s campus.
The student group came up with a letter of concerns and demands and sent it to the University’s administration demanding that there be some structural changes made at the institutional level. Thelomar urges that the group will continue to organize and work with the administration to ensure that these changes are made at the university and will also continue to raise awareness and demand justice and equality for Black lives in America.
“The problems going on at the University and also across the country should be everyone’s problem. This is not about alienating people. In fact, we encourage others to join us. We are a nation and university that prides itself in diversity and equality for all- but the reality does not reflect that. We need to come together to bring about the change that is needed to progress into a better future.”
words_ Kayla Lott, Taylor Duckett. photo_ Kayla Lott, Natalie Diala.