Sparked by an incident that occurred on social media over spring break, nearly 70 students showed up in force at Armstrong Student Center Monday afternoon to protest racist attitudes and promote diversity at Miami.
Last semester, Thomas Wright, a sophomore, used a racial slur in a group message, referring to black students at Miami. Over spring break, Wright jokingly referenced the incident in a Tinder conversation with another Miami student. Both events came to light after screenshots of Wright’s comments were circulated on social media.
Students gathered around tables littered with markers and blank posters, while others watched from the balcony above.
A few protesters carried their hand-made signs, bearing slogans like, “Smash White Supremacy,” “Action Not Apologies” and “We Pay to Be Disrespected.”
Students took turns speaking through a megaphone. They addressed everyone from their fellow demonstrators, to the onlookers gazing down from the balcony, to Miami’s administration.
The students expressed their opinions through a number of chants. The cafeteria echoed with calls of “Whose space? Our Space!” and “Do black lives matter? Yes!”
When a Miami University Police Department (MUPD) officer showed up shortly after the event began, senior Davaughn Golden turned the megaphone toward him and asked, “Why do you show up here at a peaceful protest, but when Thomas Wright speaks up, you’re nowhere?”
Another source of student protesters’ frustration was the disconnect between what the university claims to care about and what they feel it does. Speakers accused the administration of caring “not for black lives, but only for black checks.”
At one point during the protest, while the crowd listened to Golden address the bystanders in the balcony, an uproar rippled through the crowd. One of the onlookers had posted a snap on Miami’s local snap story that featured the amassed protesters, captioned “who let the zoo out?”
As the crowd shouted in anger at the culprit (who couldn’t quite put his phone away quick enough). His female companion shoved him but smiled as she hid her head behind her hands. The male student shrugged, smirked and walked away.
From that point on, the protesters turned the intended insult into a rallying cry.
“You know what happens when a lion gets let out of the zoo?” junior De’Vante Montgomery said into the megaphone. “He roars! And we’re about to roar too!”
Under the username @picassocantdraw, Golden tweeted screenshots of both of Wright’s conversations on his account on March 23, which is how the majority of the protesters initially became aware of the incident.
After the protest, Golden and juniors Aleah Holley and Imani Steele, who helped organize the demonstration, sat down with The Miami Student.
“The day Davaughn’s tweet was tweeted out, the only Miami University account that said something was the Office of Student Life,” Steele said. “I know President Crawford is seeing these tweets because we’re mentioning him, and it’s being retweeted and liked, and he’s tweeting about John Lewis and the Freedom Summer.”
Golden, Steele and Holley have all previously met with Miami administrators and invited them to speak on panels. They’ve also held forums and planned events around diversity training and intercultural education.
“Administration told us [Wright] was remorseful, and yet here we are,” Holley said. “He’s using racism as edgy, as a pickup line, as his brand of who he is.”
Steele said they want a serious response from the administration that addresses racism at Miami. The others agreed.
The group listed a few demands they want the administration to address: a successful Climate Survey, better minority recruitment efforts and rehabilitation programs after racist incidents.
“These are the things we’ve asked for,” Golden said. “Now it’s time to hold them accountable.”
“People are like, ‘You know, Thomas isn’t what Miami is.’ Really?” Holley said. “Prove to me that’s not what Miami is.”
“I think a prime example of that is the student who put [“who let the zoo out”] on his Snapchat,” Steele said. “And that was just someone who got caught.”
“These people in the middle who hear Thomas’ joke and know that’s wrong but don’t say nothin’ to Thomas, that’s where I want to affect,” Golden said.
Earlier in the day, Golden stood by the Seal and talked to tour groups walking by.
“And what did I have on? What Thomas Wright said [in the groupchat.]” Golden said, pointing to his white sweatshirt with the N-word handwritten in black Sharpie.
“Some of them might not come here now,” Golden said. “If 20 students don’t come here, so I can stop one Thomas Wright, I’ll take that chance.”
All three added they aren’t just protesting. They’re also the ones who are doing behind-the-scenes work and helping to make Miami a more inclusive place.
“I think a lot of times we forget we’re customers here, receiving a service,” Holley said. “Every time I wear Miami something, I am your brand and I’m a hell of a good one for you: black woman, young, from the city, went to D.C. and interned. Yes, Miami has a lot to offer us, but we got a lot to offer you.”
There’s a disconnect between having the Code of Love and Honor and actually implementing it, Holley said.
“Love. That’s beautiful, and maybe it’s meant to create a culture, but I’m not seeing it,” Holley said. “At this point, I feel like you don’t understand my dignity and my humanity.”
Golden took out his phone with photos of children in Cuba and Jamaica proudly displaying Miami shirts.
“I take Miami wherever I go,” Golden said. “These are just random people I gave Miami shirts. This is what I do. I take the brand wherever I go, and now to have to attack the same brand might be tragic.”
Steele and Holley both said that organizing protests and dealing with everything is exhausting.
“And yet, how many hours do we devote to this campus, endlessly? I think, though, the thing about black women is we just keep on pushing,” Holley said. “I don’t have time to think about it. A lot of white allies say ‘Oh my gosh, this is so much. How do you guys do it?’ Baby girl, I do not have time for the tears. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. We gotta keep on pushing.”
At the same time, Holley added, it’s also energizing to be a part of protests.
“Everything we do comes from us needing to love each other,” Holley said. “I can guarantee you [the Office of Diversity Affairs] is gonna be a whole lotta different now. A whole lotta love.”
“We thrive off that energy,” Steele said. “Just knowing that if the university don’t got us, we got us.”
“Every time,” Golden said. “That’s it right there. If the university don’t got us, we got us — historically, now and in the future. There’s nothing you can do to stop that.”
When talking about the timeline for more activism, Golden winked. “It’ll be closer than you think. Change is coming.”
For more on the tweet that sparked the student response, check out this story.