As tensions mounted on election eve, the University of Miami College Republicans and counter demonstrators supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement, LGBTQ+ rights and other social justice initiatives gathered on opposite sides of UM’s U Statue at the Rock Plaza Monday.
“My whole identity is on the ballot this year, and it’s not about Democrat, Republican, this is about hate, and this is about the fact that this university is continuing to perpetrate hate,” said junior psychology major Ashauni Frazier, a Black lesbian.
Many students voiced concern that the university has not been upholding the same social justice standards that they preach. Administrators have allowed UMCR to post political signage supporting President Donald Trump on campus starting with a banner Oct. 26, with lawn signs endorsing Vice President Joe Biden appearing soon after.
Signs shown on campus have included a poster reading “I’m pro choice, choose your gun” displaying multiple images of firearms, a thin blue line flag and 300 Trump yard signs lining one of the busiest walkways on campus.
“I’m scared for what’s going to happen next on this campus because it doesn’t seem like the administration has any idea as to what they’re doing,” said senior sports administration major Hunter Hawkins, who is Black.
Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Whitely responded Wednesday Oct. 28 to an email from 35 students, primarily of color, concerned for those made uncomfortable by the political signage on campus by saying that UM administrators are unable to change their policy.
“I think that we can be non-partisan while still calling out statements and policies from the current presidential administration that promote racism, bigotry, hatred and division,” said Sallie Hughes, associate professor in the department of journalism and media management. “We can be non-partisan in saying that that goes against the values of the university. so I’ve been very disappointed, and we’ve had four years to think about this.”
In an email, which was obtained by The Hurricane, to Linda L. Neider, chair of the UM Faculty Senate, Whitely wrote that the administration is unable to change banner policy in the middle of a school year.
“Changes always can be made each year, but once policies and procedures are solidified each year, they stand for the year,” Whitely wrote. “Both sides of the issue have students that feel unsafe and have reached out.”
UM administration granted UMCR a permit to hold a pro-Trump demonstration at the Rock Plaza starting early Monday morning, which included signs and a booth. Students began erecting Trump signs before sunrise, with demonstrators arriving soon after. Many of the counter protesters say they want to help those that feel oppressed by the signage.
“We are making our presence known to all of the marginalized and vulnerable people on campus,” said senior psychology major Gabriella Quiñoz.
Hughes says she knows that UM administrators have had the student body’s best interests in mind, but would like to see them do better.
“We can study free speech and point toward conversations, dialogue, understanding of historical and current structural impediments with quality respect and dignity,” Hughes said. “I haven’t seen that in the last few days and I hope that we see it going forward.”
UMCR President Andrew Hefley said that the UMCR obtained permission from UM officials to post 300 Trump yard signs along the Foote Green, a central campus walkway. Members gathered at the Rock at around 6 a.m., Hefley said, to raise awareness for their club and voice support for President Trump, adding that the club was promptly greeted by counter protestors.
“Members of my organization were harassed, berated, and the university administration came out to deal with the situation, ” Hefley said.
“I think we have a larger representation on campus, and in the past, we’ve seen the mob mentality and the screaming from the left, but the silent majority is coming out,” he continued. Other members of the organization were not made available for comment.
Between 50 and 60 Biden yard signs were displayed along the Foote Greene as well. Some questioned why protesters must obtain a demonstration permit and refuted the notion that UMCR members were harassed in any way.
“We were responding as Black and brown people who are hurt and angry and who won’t stand up for white supremacy,” said junior Chandler Hawkins. “We definitely had to respond, we had a verbal response, I don’t know why everyone is acting like that shouldn’t be expected, I mean what, we can’t speak?”
Professors share concern over administrative response
Nicholas Rau, the Executive Director of UM’s Student Center Complex, responded to professors’ complaints over the signage on campus with an email outlining the Center’s policies on political posters. Administration has consistently refused to respond further both to the Hurricane and concerned professors, stating that as long as all signs have UM club names and meeting times, the signs abide by university guidelines.
Associate Professor in the School of Education Scot Evans said he believes the UM policy regarding student organizations and their advertisement is being undercut to promote certain candidates.
“The purpose of signage from student organizations is to promote the organization or to promote a specific event,” Evans said. “And these signs and when students see these signs, especially students of color, they see this as an endorsement of a particular candidate or a particular political party…They’re clearly not advertising the organization or meetings.” Evans added that earlier Monday morning a thin blue line flag was hanging from the UMCR’s tent at the Rock. The flag has become a symbol used to counter the message of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In an interview with The Hurricane last Thursday, Hefley commented on UMCR’s Trump banner being vandalized by saying that administrators had been helpful to them and their organization.
“I greatly appreciate the university administration’s commitment to free speech on campus as you probably saw by Julio Frenk’s email on Monday,” Hefley said, referring to an Oct. 26 email from UM’s president condemning the actions of a student vandal.
The email, sent out to students and faculty after a UM student smeared black paint on the first of UMCR’s Trump signs, has been the subject of faculty and student debate.
“The College Republicans chapter at the University of Miami utilized the process afforded to all student groups to exercise their right to free speech, yet someone attempted to thwart their expression. This is an unacceptable act of disrespect, and those found responsible will be held accountable,” said Frenk in the email, sent to the UM community en masse.
Hughes said she feels the email was an inappropriate response to the incident due to its focus on punitive justice.
“The message condemning the defacement of the Trump sign had a language that was very much focused on punishment instead of focused on dialogue, understanding, acknowledging where the sentiment came from and working towards a useful conversation and dialogue that might lead us towards deeper understanding,” she said.
UM Professor of Law, Dean’s Distinguished Scholar and Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Community Osamudia James said she feels this election cycle has left students uniquely polarized, adding that in other years the political signage on campus may have been less controversial.
“Sometimes you can reach a tipping point when the signs don’t encourage debate— they send very strong normative messages about which spaces belong to whom,” James said. “I think students are feeling concerned that this is not just an endorsement of one candidate or another, but that this is an endorsement of values that exclude me or are hostile to my right to be here.
Division evident among students
Students who gathered at the Rock Plaza Monday were largely divided by race and politics, with white male Trump supporters on one side and students of color and BLM supporters on the other.
Senior biology major Wildlif Bayard, a Black woman, said she is one of many students that feels threatened by UM’s policies and UMCR’s actions.
“I thought coming to the University of Miami, I thought this would be like a safe haven, you know, a place to get away from all of the political bullsh*t, but it’s not,” Bayard said. “I feel like this should not have happened, they should’ve never let all of these signs go up and it wouldn’t have gotten to the point that it got to.”
Frazier said she feels there are mixed messages coming from UM’s administration.
“I feel that the administration of this school has done a terrible job,” Frazier said, adding that she feels unsafe on campus as a Black lesbian.
“You say you care about Black lives, you say you care about the gay students on campus… The amount of signs out here is ridiculous, and you can say what you want, but your actions right now are showing the complete opposite and it’s sad,” she continued.
Frazier went on to say that she also has a problem with Julio Frenk’s email response to the Oct. 26 Trump sign vandalism, adding that administrators didn’t send out an email after Black student-athletes were harassed on social media for wearing BLM shirts.
“When athletes get called monkeys underneath university posts they don’t want to delete that, but they want to send an inclusivity email about a Trump sign being vandalized when nobody was physically harmed in that incident?” Frazier said. “I’m not saying that they were right, but if the school wants to send all these inclusivity emails, send emails about that, send emails about this. This is ridiculous.”
Sophomore broadcast journalism major and white male Ben Hanson said he is happy UMCR was given the right to post their signs and hold their demonstration Monday.
“It’s great to see the spirit and passion that the University of Miami Republican club has here on campus,” Hanson said, adding that he joined the club Monday after attending the event.
“I’m glad to be a part of it, and I’m looking forward to four more years of the president, who not only supports our military… but more importantly raises the bar for what it means to be an American,” he continued.
UM senior Hunter Hawkins said just the opposite, comparing the Trump administration and its supporters to the most authoritarian and xenophobic regimes in the world’s history.
“If these Trump signs here were Nazi symbols, everybody would be up in arms because of what the Nazi party stood for,” Hawkins said. “It’s the same thing with Donald Trump and his supporters— they’re white supremacists who don’t believe that Black people matter, who don’t believe that brown people matter, and honestly, it just looks like World War III is about to take place.”
Hawkins went on to say that what she wants most is for administrators to acknowledge their mistakes and make real changes.
“I just need the administration to actually step up,” Hawkins said. “This is unfortunate that we have to be out here talking about how we don’t feel safe on a campus that is supposed to be protecting everybody.”
A day after the publication of this article, Whitely issued the following statement via email:
“We will work with our student leaders and staff to review our current policies around banners, signage and events, especially as it may relate to political affiliations. Any recommended changes would be enacted for the 2021-2022 academic year.
As a result of feedback received on Monday, I asked the College Republicans and the Young and College Democrats to reduce the number of signs lining campus walkways on Election Day. Additionally, both organizations were informed that all campaign signage must be removed from campus Tuesday evening.”
Jesse Lieberman contributed to the reporting of this story.