University’s Black community gives new voice to concerns
By Yasmine Cowan
The University of Maryland’s (UMD) Office of Multicultural Involvement and Community Advocacy (MICA) hosted a town hall, The State of Black Terps, on Nov. 30 for students to discuss issues and concerns within the university’s Black community. MICA held the meeting in hopes of hearing from a broad range of Black student voices, not just from the community’s student leaders.
“We wanted to invite students who didn’t have a specific title to come out and express their concerns and opinions,” said Brianna Hayes, the university’s graduate coordinator for Black student involvement and advocacy. “The university thought it would be a great idea to come to Black students, and ask them about their critical issues going on, not just on campus, but in College Park,” she added.
According to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website, “The administration reached out to Black students to be in community with them.” The university partnered with five student leaders: Adam Ahmed, cofounder of the Somali Students Organization; Jehnae Linkind, president of the Black Graduate Student Union; Nadia Owusu, cofounder of Black Terps Matter; Pauline Sow, director of diversity for the University of Maryland Student Government Association; and Saba Tshibaka, cofounder of Black Terps Matter, to discuss ways in which their concerns could be addressed. The Black organizations generated a list of 25 priority concerns, which are listed as action items on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website (diversity.umd.edu), along with status reports for each item.
“The purpose of this meeting was to stress the importance of revisiting those demands and ensuring that they are actually being captured, in the way that the administration is putting them out,” said Hayes.
During the town hall, Hayes specifically focused on the third item in the list, which pertains to the funding of the University of Maryland Police Department. Black student organizations on campus have pressed for excess funds currently allocated to the police department to be redistributed to the Nyumburu Cultural Center and the African American Studies Department.
UMD President Darryll Pines moved to address this issue by establishing the University of Maryland Task Force on Community Policing, which is tasked with examining current practices and recommending improvements, with the goal of increasing safety while fostering trusting partnerships between the university’s police department and the university community. The university anticipates implementing task force recommendations during the 2021-22 academic year.
According to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website, the university’s response to this issue is ongoing; the last update was posted on Aug.18.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion is responsible for posting status updates on it’s website. Student leaders indicated, though, that the office was not meeting with or providing sufficient information to Black student organizations.
Kelsey Coleman, a junior with a double major in Black liberation studies and public policy, and president of the university’s chapter of the NAACP, said, “If you go on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website for UMD, they say that certain changes have been enforced, but they never met with our groups.”
Hayes added, “this [the third item on the list of concerns] is also something that we need to bring to their attention, especially because they say it’s in progress, but it seems as if they’re working their way around it to not reduce the funding.”
However, UMD says that the 18 out of 25 critical issues are sustained and completed according to their website, but MICA is not sure of that, said Hayes.
Coleman cited the university’s apparent lack of transparency as one of the concerns that prompted MICA to hold the meeting. “How can you say that something was met, and you didn’t even consult us to say that we agree with that,” she said.
Hayes expressed a similar concern. “I want to see all the statistics; I want to see how things have improved since 2020,” she said.
Kiara Anthony, a senior majoring in government and politics, said that she attended the meeting to “understand what’s going on, on campus, and the fundamental importance of how we can make advancements when it comes to understanding Black voices and getting things done.”
“We’re trying to create a community, but you can’t have a community if people are still separated from each other,” she said.
Follow MICA on Instagram (instagram.com/umdmica) to stay updated on this issue, and others, impacting the university’s underrepresented communities.