Miami alum talks the politics of white supremacy

By Emily Williams, Managing Editor 

On Monday, Dec. 5, students and faculty will gather to create a safe space for all identities, defend Miami as a welcoming community and educate themselves on strategies to navigate today’s politics. The Shade Family Room stage in the Armstrong Student Center will be decorated with human-size flowers, contributed by a variety of student organizations, as a display of solidarity and support.

At the same time, Milo Yiannopoulos, a senior editor for Brietbart News, will be speaking in the Harry T. Wilks Theater, just steps away from the art display.

An event, “Growing a Garden of Love,” will be held in the Heritage Room of the Shriver Center from 6 to 9 p.m. — the same time as Yiannopoulos’s lecture. The activities, which will focus strongly on community building, include poetry, crafts and spoken word.

At 7 p.m., students will also have the opportunity to join Miami alumnus Kevin Samy, a speechwriter for the Obama administration, for a discussion in Upham Hall 001, “The Politics of White Supremacy and the 2016 Election.”

Senior Lana Pochiro, an intern with Miami’s Women’s Center, helped organize the event and art display. Pochiro said the effort has two goals — to show the community that Miami is a welcoming, accepting place and to bring people together to talk about how to prepare for the future.

“It goes beyond having a supporting community,” Pochiro said. “My hope is to unite people who say, ‘No, we do not accept this.’ We want to educate others and develop real strategies.”

After learning about Yiannopoulos’s upcoming visit to campus, students showed concern over the attitudes and messages that would accompany the speaker, said Rhonda Jackson, administrative assistant for the Women’s Center. From there, the event grew organically, Jackson said, and was very student-driven. Students wanted to create something that was beautiful, affirming and welcoming, she said.

“We’re not protesting,” Jackson said of the event and art display. “We’re just not engaging.”

After speaking with students at an event on campus in mid-November, Samy was motivated to volunteer to come back to Miami, this time for an event with a focus on the current political climate. Miami’s College Democrats helped to organize Samy’s visit on Monday.

“There are all of these elements at play, so I want to inform about the politics of white supremacy in 2016 and what it means going forward,” said Samy. “Then, I want to also offer solutions — lay out the problem, lay out the concerns, educate about it and tell people where you can take that energy — your frustration, your concern, your worry. Here’s what you can do about it.”

Samy originally intended to pursue a career as a professional athlete, but, after suffering a serious injury during his second season as a defensive tackle for the RedHawks, had to reevaluate his career path.

A passion for public service led him to pursue a master’s degree in climate change policy at Yale. Samy has since been a member of the White House climate team and has served as a speechwriter for Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy.

Samy noted that, although it’s important for a university to provide safe and welcoming spaces, those sentiments of support and affirmation have been used as fodder for the very groups that these protests and events oppose who often characterize the participants as “cry babies” or “special snowflakes.” Those opposing voices, though, are in the minority, he said.

“When it comes to compassion vs. hate, the simple truth is there are more of us than there are of them,” Samy said. “Hatred has always been sparked by a vocal few. They have spectacle and stunts, we have numbers. We just need to get organized and active.”

After Monday’s discussion, Samy hopes students will be equipped with actionable steps to respond to the political climate which has left so many individuals, particularly young voters, feeling uncertain.

“Like most voters this election, the results threw me for a loop,” Samy said. “But one thing is for sure — if I can impart some kind of realistic, actionable step forward for folks who want an America where our politics is focused on ideas instead of identities, regardless of party,  I want to do that.”   

One of the points Samy intends to emphasize is the importance of staying engaged and taking ownership of the responsibilities of citizenship in a democracy.

“Politics matters. Refusing to engage in the process isn’t a principled stance, it’s an abdication of  your democratic right and a deferment of your power to somebody else,” Samy said. “It skews the system. This election makes that clear.”

So far the response to the “Growing a Garden of Love” event and Samy’s upcoming visit has been very positive from both students and faculty, said Jackson and Pochiro. At a recent meeting, Jackson said, it became clear to her that Miami’s faculty has noticed the uncertainty and fear felt by students, and they want to help.

“Silence speaks volumes. We need to have a response,” Jackson said. “It’s not just about policies and procedures. It’s about people’s’ hearts and minds.”