For the past few years the leaders and residents of Overtown have been asking University of Miami President, Donna Shalala, to sign a Community Benefits Agreement in return for the millions of dollars of support the UM Life Science and Technology Park is receiving from their low-income community.
S.T.A.N.D. (Students Toward A New Democracy), a University of Miami student organization, has supported the Overtown community in this struggle on campus and off. Currently, both S.T.A.N.D., as an organization, and individual student members of S.T.A.N.D., are being targeted, censored, and hassled by the university administration. A small group of administrators are threatening to shut down the organization, claiming that the groups’ use of harmless, non-permanent children’s sidewalk chalk was an act of vandalism. Individual students have been called in for “on demand” meetings with deans; one had his course registration held up. I have seen chalk messages on campus from many student organizations and I have never heard of them receiving the same level of disciplinary action, suggesting that different standards are being applied for this group. Administrative hassling of students for their civic participation sends a chill through not only S.T.A.N.D., but the entire campus. As a professor on the University of Miami campus, I am appalled by such actions carried out in the name of our university. These proceedings fly in the face of our responsibilities as a respected educational institution and an important member of the South Florida community. Universities thrive only when they encourage the free exchange of ideas. The University of Miami should support freedom of speech on campus and encourage student engagement in the larger community, even when the message and civic involvement are critical of University actions or policies. Anything less shortchanges our students, campus, and community.
Linda Belgrave is an associate professor in the department of sociology.