“What is Love and Honor?”
That question guided the conversation during the Black State of the Union address, led by sophomore Jermaine Thomas and senior Jerry Shepherd at 7:11 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7.
The significance of the 7:11 p.m. start time was because the historically black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi was founded in 1911, which is 7:11 in military time.
In a statement at the beginning of the forum, President Greg Crawford officially charged professor and coordinator of Black World Studies Rodney Coates with heading up a task force to answer the broader question of how Miami students can educate one another against bigotry and hatred.
Crawford also called for immediate reflection in the Miami community following public outcry over a viral screenshot of a GroupMe message, in which first year Thomas Wright used a racial slur.
After giving his speech, Crawford left to attend the Miami v. Akron football game to honor Education Health and Society (EHS) faculty and military heroes and host the Foundation Board at Yager Stadium.
Coates is expected to report back to the administration and faculty in six months. Alongside a panel of students hand-selected by Coates, he will present new initiatives, action plans, workshops and policies to address the systemic racist attitudes among members of the Miami community.
“I’ve seen us come to the same place seven to eight times almost every three to four years,” Coates said to the crowd of over 100 gathered in 322 McGuffey Hall. “We’ve had promises, we’ve had commitments, we’ve had words, it’s time for us to have some action.”
Thomas and Shepherd also organized a panel of administrators to field questions through Twitter from the audience of students, faculty and community members by using the hashtag #WhatIsLoveAndHonor.
The panel included dean of students Mike Curme, vice president of student affairs Jayne Brownell, assistant vice president of student affairs and ASG advisor Scott Walter and director of the office of diversity affairs Kelley Kimple.
The vice president for institutional diversity, Ronald Scott, was notably absent from the forum.
A large portion of the Q & A between the panel of administrators and the largely African-American student audience was dedicated to discussing whether or not Wright would be punished by the university for using a racial slur in a group message.
Brownell explained that, since the language was not used as a direct threat to another individual, the student’s First Amendment rights protect that speech.
“We cannot punish expression,” Brownell said. “Because it isn’t a violation of the code. There are voluntary things we can recommend or encourage, but there isn’t a sanction we can mandate.”
Student activist and sophomore Clara Guerra disagreed with the university’s position that the university should be focusing on education over punishment.
“The norm is of that student, and that’s what we want to address, ” Guerra said. “So, changing the conscience of this one student, it may make us feel good, but it won’t change anything. The problem is the hundreds of other students who won’t do anything about it and who think the same way as he does.”
One of the questions raised through Twitter was whether or not the Code of Love & Honor had the same power as the Code of Conduct.
“The Code of Love & Honor is an aspiration,” Curme said. “Yet, that is the expectation students and faculty should have when they come here. There is a gap, however, between that aspiration and reality.”
Several community members were also in attendance including Oxford’s NAACP chapter president Fran Jackson as well as chairman of Oxford’s police oversight commission, Pat Meade.
Another black student, who was a junior, asked how it was possible that he had taken over 130 credit hours at Miami, yet had never sat down in a classroom and looked up to a see a professor who looked like him.
Near the end of the forum, Kimple addressed many of the students’ concerns on an optimistic note.
“You are here, you are present and we want you to have the best experience you possibly can,” Kimple said. “I’m always very honest with students. There are places where you can find your niche…we are trying to work toward making your voices be heard and I hope you will be able to help us out in trying to strive towards excellence.”
This story has been updated at 7:22 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.