After an on-campus demonstration in support of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump featured a sign that read, “Build a wall,” last Thursday, students delivered a letter Monday to President Julio Frenk expressing concerns about the phrase. Executive Director of Communications for the Office of the President, Annette Herrera, said Wednesday that Frenk took the matter very seriously and would be asking the Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion to review the letter.
The letter, available below, mentions the signs displayed, and said that they show “clear support of presidential candidate Donald Trump, whose campaign has espoused an egregious rhetoric of blatant racism, xenophobia, misogyny, violence, and unadulterated hatred.”
The letter points specifically to the “Build a Wall” sign, and one of the letter’s authors, Rebecca Garcia, said that was her main complaint in the letter.
“I would like him to respond, but more so in the sense that in the community these messages are not OK, and they’re not OK, and they’re not in line with his message of belonging, of his initiatives of diversity and inclusion because they’re kind of just the opposite of that,” Garcia said.
The authors acknowledged in their letter that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but said the school “made a public commitment to protect the safety and wellbeing of students of color and other historically marginalized student groups, particularly through the establishment of the Task Force for Addressing Black Students Concerns, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) Task Force, and the recently appointed Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.”
Garcia said she doesn’t take issue with support of Trump as much as the sign, because she would expect to be allowed to support whichever candidate she supports. However, she said she found the “Build a wall” sign to be offensive.
“A lot of people might say ‘oh building a wall it’s not a big deal,’ but yeah it is, because what Donald Trump is saying, his politics are saying: we need to exclude people, we need to target and exclude and marginalize people from our society,” Garcia said.
She added that the issue of the sign was personal for students who are the children of Latin American immigrants, such as herself and two other authors of the letter.
“If you want to support whichever candidate you want, that’s up to you, you have freedom of expression, but at least do so without hurting others and making others feel uncomfortable,” she said.
The school established the Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, which Frenk will ask to review the letter, in December 2015.
“Reporting to the executive vice president and provost, this committee is entrusted with researching, recommending, and promoting educational and programmatic efforts that are consistent with UM’s unwavering dedication to diversity and inclusion,” President Frenk wrote at the time of announcing it. “Among the other activities of the committee are analyzing strategies to enhance our educational efforts around these topics.”
Garcia, who said she is a member of the standing committee, was not sure whether she would be involved in the reviewing process, given the conflict of interest. While the letter is not signed by the students, Garcia said she simply forgot to add her name and contact information to it.
It is not known whether the pro-Trump demonstrators were students or not, but a spokesperson for the school confirmed that it was not an approved event under Student Affairs.
The letter delivered to President Frenk on Monday, April 4:
Dear President Frenk:
On Thursday, March 31st 2016, a group of students held a demonstration outside of Richter Library holding signs with phrases “Build a Wall”, “Can’t Stump the Trump”, and “All Aboard the Trump Train”. These signs demonstrated a clear support of presidential candidate Donald Trump, whose campaign has espoused an egregious rhetoric of blatant racism, xenophobia, misogyny, violence, and unadulterated hatred. While the First Amendment of the United States constitution does protect freedom of speech, the University of Miami has made a public commitment to protect the safety and wellbeing of students of color and other historically marginalized student groups, particularly through the establishment of the Task Force for Addressing Black Students Concerns, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) Task Force, and the recently appointed Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.
Many of the groups that Donald Trump and these incredibly offensive signs target can be found all across our campus- Latinos, students of Black / African-American descent, Muslims, women, international students, etc., etc. In particular, the slogan “Build a Wall” is in essence, a racially coded and exclusionist message, and may serve to make students threatened or uncomfortable- especially if they are immigrants from another country to come to pursue their studies at UM or if they are the children of immigrants who are familiar with the multiple struggles that immigrants face when they first arrive to this country.
Public endorsements or expressions of support of Donald Trump is a controversial issue that universities all across the country must navigate through, and we ask that the University of Miami be one of the first to take a critical stand in the protection of the physical and emotional well-being of students of color. No one should be forced to learn, study, and socialize in an environment that condones hostility toward them just because of how they look or where they are from.
We ask that the University of Miami respect their own institutional values and make true of their promises to diversity and inclusion by addressing this on-campus demonstrates (sic). We members of the University of Miami community will not hesitate to pursue our next steps if no action is taken.
Thank you for your time and cooperation.
A concerned group of members of the University of Miami community