“What’s disgusting? Racist statues. What’s outrageous? UM values.”
That phrase was chanted by around 60 students Wednesday afternoon during a protest in the Circle and the Lyceum.
The protest, organized by Students Against Social Injustice (SASI), delivered a letter to officials in the Lyceum asking the administration to remove the Confederate statue that stands prominently on campus, enact a hate speech policy on campus and have a meeting with SASI members next semester about issues they say plague the campus.
Em Gill, the secretary for SASI, has previously met with the administration, but said university leaders have not been receptive to the organization’s demands. Gill said the university’s inaction shows its leaders are too afraid to remove the statue because they want to honor the wishes of some of the alumni who “pay the university’s bills.”
“But, that’s not the right side of history,” Gill said. “That’s not morally just, and I think it’s cowardice that stops them from doing that. (The administration) has the power to remove the statue.”
At a speech in the Circle, Gill told protesters that every student has a stake in discussion about Confederate symbols.
“Currently, we have a statue on our campus that glorifies Confederates who fought for slavery,” Gill said. “We must change the status quo, protect the students of our campus and each other.”
The university has a long history with Confederate monuments and symbols.
Not far from the Confederate statue also stands a statue of James Meredith, the university’s first black student to enroll on campus. The statue has previously been tarnished with a noose and Confederate flag, and the Ku Klux Klan have marched close nearby.
Rod Guajardo, a university spokesman, said that university leaders have received and reviewed the letter SASI sent them.
“With final exams scheduled next week, they look forward to meeting with our students for a conversation sometime early in the new calendar year,” Guajardo said.
At a speech in front of the Confederate statue, SASI vice president Bianca Martinez said it’s time to stop “glorifying racist statues” that promote racism on campus.
“These statues suffocate the air and keep the close-minded blindfolded,” Martinez said. “Black students and other students of color are tired of feeling isolated and underrepresented.”
SASI member Matthew Abron said he hopes the protest takes further steps than what’s previously done in the past about having a dialogue with students.
“I think that the university is not doing enough to protect minorities or marginalized students on campus,” Abron said. “There needs to be a specific, written policy on how to deal with that. Hate speech needs to be taken more seriously, rather than just treating it like vandalism or bullying.”