Rally precedes protesters’ hearing

Disciplinary hearings were held Friday for two members of Whose Diversity?, the student group that staged a Morril Hall sit-in in February. A decision is expected later this week.

Nicholas Goldsmith, a representative from the Council of Graduate Students, speaks to a crowd at the Whose Diversity? rally outside of Morrill Hall on Friday. The group and its allies stood in solidarity with students who were arrested while occupying Morrill Hall in 2014 prior to their hearing in Lind Hall later that evening.

Maddy Fox

Nicholas Goldsmith, a representative from the Council of Graduate Students, speaks to a crowd at the Whose Diversity? rally outside of Morrill Hall on Friday. The group and its allies stood in solidarity with students who were arrested while occupying Morrill Hall in 2014 prior to their hearing in Lind Hall later that evening.

Raj Chaduvula

Hundreds of professors, students and community activists congregated outside a University of Minnesota hall Friday to show support for two students facing conduct charges.
 
Fifth-year doctoral student Rahsaan Mahadeo and second-year graduate student David Melendez are members of the student group Whose Diversity?, which occupied President Eric Kaler’s office in February, demanding increased University emphasis on diversity.
 
Thirteen demonstrators received student conduct citations. Mahadeo and Melendez contested the misconduct charges, and a hearing for those was held later on Friday.
 
“The rally was held in part to carry momentum into the hearings,” Mahadeo said.
 
At the rally, supports held signs that read, “Freedom of speech should not be criminalized,” “Prosecute racism not students” and “Education is a right not just for rich and white.”
 
The rally also included an improvised dance show and speeches by representatives of the Students for a Democratic Society, members of the Black Student Union and
 
African American and African studies professor John Wright, a former member of the Afro-American Action Committee that occupied Morrill Hall in 1969.
 
“Student activism is a sign of a healthy campus,” Melendez said. 
 
By protesting aspects of the institution that they believe aren’t up to par, he said, student demonstrators are actually displaying their school loyalty.
 
Mahadeo and Melendez said they were charged with refusal to comply and disorderly conduct, and that their first pre-hearing was held in October. 
 
“Our primary purpose for contesting these charges was to show that it’s safe for underrepresented minorities to express dissent without the fear of criminalization,” Mahadeo said.
 
About a half dozen University staff members and professors testified at the hearing.
 
Panel members of the Campus Committee on Student Behavior will decide whether to drop or uphold the charges on Thursday or Friday. If they are upheld, Mahadeo said he and Melendez will ask for an appeal to Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson.
 
Occupation results
 
Mahadeo said in the aftermath of the Morrill Hall takeover the University launched the RIGS Initiative, a cluster hire for faculty positions focused on issues of race, indigeneity, gender and sexuality. 
 
Philosophy professor Naomi Scheman said the Whose Diversity? takeover helped give more momentum to the RIGS Initiative. Scheman gave a speech at the rally to show her support.
 
“I was asked to speak on behalf of faculty who are trying to unionize … and their issues that have been at the heart of my career [since] the beginning,” she said, praising Whose Diversity? for questioning the status quo by demanding more faculty members of color when it occupied Morrill Hall.
 
Scheman said it’s important to note the administration’s reaction to the disruption, as the administration was not required to file charges.
 
“Disruption is what universities are for,” she said at the rally.