Diversity concerns remain after sit-in

A Monday demonstration had 13 arrested, but some campus activists are still frustrated.

Parker Lemke

After authorities broke up a demonstration Monday that called for action on campus diversity issues, University of Minnesota leaders are trying to calm the waters.

Campus group Whose Diversity? organized the Morrill Hall sit-in out of frustration with what members say is a slow response to a list of diversity-related demands it presented last spring to the school’s administration. On Tuesday, administrators met with group members and cultural center and student government leaders to discuss the disputes.

Concerns with the gradual pace of action on campus issues extends beyond Whose Diversity?, said Vice Provost of Student Affairs Danita Brown Young, who convened the meeting.

“Students, rightfully so, are very tired of the slow processes that have happened for years, months,” said Brown Young, who’s also the Dean of Students. “They want their voices heard, and they want action, period.”

Students contacted her office throughout the night with their concerns, she said, requesting to discuss how the University is addressing them.

“I heard from several student leaders last night who were upset. They were frustrated, they were angry; they just really wanted to talk about the issues they had heard — what was real, what was fictitious,” Brown Young said.

Authorities arrested 13 students and other activists taking part in the sit-in on trespassing charges. All were released early Tuesday morning after the group used help from online donations to pay demonstrators’ $78 bails. A court appearance is set for Feb. 24.

University spokesman Steve Henneberry said 10 University police officers were on the scene, along with some from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office.

Whose Diversity? members said the police presence created a tense atmosphere early on. Eventually, some members were called into President Eric Kaler’s  Morrill Hall office, while the rest stayed in the lobby, said group member Leah Prudent, who was arrested.

Prudent, a global studies and social justice student, said she saw police and administrative staff confront other demonstrators when they also tried to enter Kaler’s office.

“The police officers were being very aggressive,” she said.

Student government officers, student affairs administrators and representatives from most of Coffman Union’s second-floor cultural centers held a productive discussion of the protests and what can be done to move forward on diversity issues, said Minnesota Student Association communications director Drew Coveyou.

“[Whose Diversity?] had a chance to share things in the presence of a lot of student leaders, and I think that was a big plus,” he said.

Whose Diversity? members were not directly invited to the meeting, group organizer Joanna Núñez said.

Given the arrests, she said, the group and some cultural centers were concerned about the University’s commitment to hearing student opinions on diversity.

Núñez cited the group’s demand that the University stop listing a suspect’s race in its crime alerts as an example of an unmet demand.

During the protest, Whose Diversity? requested that the University provide a written response to its demands.

The University responded and outlined how it’s addressing each item — including the crime alerts.

“We understand that the use of race in crime alerts is harmful for members of our community, especially Black men and can serve to perpetuate racist stereotypes…” the response read. “Public safety is a top priority of ours and we will change our approach to using suspect descriptions in crime alerts.”

But some Whose Diversity? members are skeptical of the University’s plans for action.

“We don’t know what that [action] looks like; we don’t know what that is — it’s just words,” Prudent said. “It doesn’t mean anything, and that’s not good enough.”