Demonstrators stand together in solidarity outside of the University Center
By Rebecca Panico
About 20 students demonstrated inside and outside the University Center on March 12, hoping to bring attention to alleged racist comments of a Kean professor, a supposedly unsupportive Student Government Organization and other national issues currently facing black Americans.
Students gathered in a circle in front of the UC at approximately 3 p.m. on March 12, with some wearing signs that read, “Does my skin color offend you?” in light of recent racist chants of members from a Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity based out of the University of Oklahoma that went viral and gained national attention earlier this month.
Although the demonstration was not organized by the Pan-African Student Union – an organization devoted to empowering students of African descent — PASU President Kayla-Simone McKelvey was very outspoken at the event.
McKelvey spoke on behalf of the demonstrators, voicing their concerns over a psychology professor, who they claim made racist comments about Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was shot dead by Cleveland police in November, 2014. The professor, whose name they would not disclose, allegedly stated that Rice deserved to die and that the only mistake police made was driving too close to the boy.
Demonstrators did not want to name the student who came forth with the complaint and none actually claimed to have heard the professor say the remarks. Susan Kayne, a spokeswoman for the University noted, however, that an investigation has been made into the matter.
“The administration is investigating allegations against the psychology professor,” stated Susan Kayne in an e-mail. “They are not in a position to talk about the investigation at this time.”
The demonstrators also stated that when they tried to organize trips to the Apollo Theater or museums during Black History Month with the help of the SGO, their paperwork was always deemed incomplete. According to demonstrators, SGO President Gerard Smithwrick allegedly stated that their trips would be an unnecessary use of SGO funds.
“I can state that nobody in the Office of Student Government nor myself would have answered a student in that manner,” Smithwrick said when reached for comment. He went on to explain that a programming board made up of students outside of the SGO were responsible for planning and organizing events for Black History Month in February.
He also commented on PASU funding, although demonstrators did not represent the organization.
“PASU is a Funded Group of Student Organization, they have a budget for programming which was how they were able to fund and coordinate the annual Black Love Affair in honor of black history month,” Smithwrick said.
When asked for the SGO’s budget, SGO Director Stephanie Faser could only offer the top-five funded group events of this year so far, with no dollar amounts attached.
After calling out names of black Americans that were recently killed by police, such as Eric Garner or Michael Brown, demonstrators held hands and marched into the UC cafeteria where they were confronted by two administrators.
Director of Leadership and Service Scott Snowden and Carli Hench, Managing Assistant Director of the SGO, calmly spoke to the demonstrators and told them they needed to go through the proper protocols at the University to organize a demonstration.
“This [the cafeteria] is considered a private venue,” said Snowden, adding that the demonstrators were making other students uncomfortable.
Both administrators emphasized that they were supportive of the student demonstrators and would like to sit down with them in a more appropriate setting where they could voice their complaints and concerns.
After the demonstrators cleared the cafeteria, students commented on their feelings towards the sit-in and allegations. Some found it hard to believe that any professor on campus would make comments like the ones alleged by the demonstrators.
“The way they did it wasn’t the best way to go about it,” stated Karen Gaviria, a therapeutic recreation major a Kean. “It made some people uncomfortable… Honestly, I think people are overthinking it.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the protest happened on March 13. It actually took place on March 12.