Donna E. Shalala announced the creation of a “Task Force to Address Black Students’ Concerns” in February with goals to review current efforts in diversifying faculty and to assess the campus climate for black students. University of Miami students asked the administration to make a change.
In December 2014, UM students organized a rally on campus called #BlackLivesMatter to increase awareness about racial equality after the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Organizers included senior Mischael Cetoute, junior Hülya Miclisse-Polat, President of UBS TeQuan Taylor and President of Planet Kreyol Guerdiana Thelomar.
Following the rally, controversy broke out on campus social media with racially charged insults directed toward the protesters. In response, organizers of the rally came together to write a letter to Shalala and UM’s administration about the “disappointing” reaction to the rally across the university.
“That, along with the other concerns black students had like the low numbers in black faculty, the resources available to black students to ensure their success and retention at UM, and more all led to the students demanding for a meeting with President Shalala and the higher administration to address these concerns,” Thelomar said.
The letter cited usages of racial slurs by students on popular social media platforms like Yik Yak and Facebook during what Cetoute said was a “blatantly racist” and “appalling” response.
“Students were literally moved to tears because they never in a million years thought they would experience this kind of prejudice at a place like the University of Miami – one of the most diverse institutions in the country,” said Cetoute.
Rather than seeking retribution, Cetoute says that organizers focused on implementing changes to promote racial harmony for the future of UM’s campus.
“As students, instead of retaliating or focusing on individual aggression, we decided to look at structural issues that can be adjusted to create a more progressive racial climate,” he said.
The letter culminated in a request to the administration for the creation of a task force for diversity and the inclusion of black students on campus.
“The task force, in my opinion, is long overdue and I’m excited to be a part of making changes that will ultimately improve our university,” said Cetoute.
“I think it is important that we have the opportunity to not only voice our concerns, but also my goal is to continue to have the space to create concrete solutions that will positively impact the university as a whole,” Miclisse-Polat said.
According to Taylor, the specific goals of the task force include exploring resources for diversity programming, enhancing sensitivity and inclusivity training, and exploring current efforts in the recruitment of faculty.
These goals were influenced by the specific needs and requests of the rally organizers who drafted the letter, according to Cetoute.
“Most of our recommendations stem from our own experiences on campus, many of them negative,” he said.
The organizers who drafted the letter will now serve on the task force that they helped to create.
“My personal hope is that the actions from the task force will make this a better campus for everyone, but specifically black students who feel that they belong here and that this campus provides nothing for them,” said Taylor.
Thelomar shared similar sentiments.
“I feel honored to be on the task force and to help make much needed improvements at the institutional level that will not only positively affect the lives of the black community at UM, but overall enhance and create a more inclusive and accepting environment for all,” Thelomar said.