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Student organizations respond to killing of George Floyd

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In the weeks following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, several student organizations at Miami University have released statements responding to their deaths and calling for action. Though all of these statements condemned the killings themselves, some organizations had differing perspectives on the protests that followed.

Miami’s College Democrats (Dems) released a statement on May 30 that condemned systemic racism against black Americans and spoke favorably of the protests occurring in Minnesota and elsewhere.

“The anger currently on display in Minnesota and other cities across the nation is wholly justified,” the statement reads. “Enough is enough. Black Lives Matter, and it is long past time that America starts acting like they do.”

Omar Elghazawi, communications director for Dems, said the organization hoped to call attention to the history of police brutality against black Americans that continues to persist.

“The protests going on are completely justified in our view, and it’s important that we stand in solidarity with those and fight with those who are fighting for basic human rights that should be guaranteed for all, but aren’t,” Elghazawi said.

Two days after Dems released its statement, Miami’s College Republicans (CRs) Vice Chairman Collin Finn emailed a statement to The Miami Student. The statement condemned the killing of Floyd and praised peaceful demonstrators. It then criticized Dems for supporting rioting and violent protests.

“We are disappointed by the endorsement of these acts of violence and terrorism by the Miami University College Democrats,” the statement read. “In the future, we hope they will choose to promote unity over division, peace over violence, love over hate and facts over fiction.”

CRs faced backlash from students and alumni following the release of the statement.

Miami alumnus Imokhai Okolo posted a picture of the statement on Facebook with the caption, “When I tell you 4 years at a [primarily white institution] like Miami University was a time of constantly [being] triggered by folks and their subtle racism this is why…”

Following the backlash, CRs removed the original statement from social media and issued a second one on June 3. The new statement listed organizations CRs had donated to and urged others to to do the same. 

CRs did not respond to requests for comment.

Another source of controversy emerged when a student shared a screenshot on Twitter of an email sent out to Miami’s Chi Omega listserv. The email sent from Chi Omega’s chapter president asked members of the sorority not to use the listserv for sending information and resources related to the killings and protests and to use their personal platforms instead, because the listserv is supposed to be used for Chi Omega updates and reminders.

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“Apparently an email list with hundreds of people in positions of privilege is an inappropriate platform to use our voices for good and support social justice,” reads the tweet, which has since been deleted. “Completely disgusted at the sheer lack of responsibility demonstrated here. Disappointed but not surprised.”

Molly McNamara, president of Miami’s Panhellenic Association, declined to comment on the incident.

Other organizations focused their statements on what the Miami community can do to actively fight racial injustice.

Miami Activities and Programming (MAP) released a statement on June 1, condemning the recent killings and discussing its efforts to foster an inclusive environment at MAP events.

“Our hope is to provide our community with safe spaces in which all students feel welcome and comfortable,” the statement reads. “We wish to emphasize our support for our students of color. As a Miami community, we need to come together to combat this problem in our country.”

LeAnn Burczynski, MAP president, said the statement has been positively received and that some students have suggested MAP could take further action by holding a fundraiser for a non-profit.

“We understand that there is a lot of work to do, and releasing that statement was our first step,” Burczynski said. “We strive to do better, and we want the students to know that we are listening.”

On May 31, the Multicultural Business Association (MBA) released a statement calling on the Miami community to take steps toward combating racism, such as having uncomfortable conversations with family members and voting.

“We urge the Miami community to be empathetic, compassionate and to aggressively advocate for those populations who are deemed invisible and irrelevant in our society,” the statement reads. “We are all interdependent on each other, and as a community, we need to come together as one Miami to combat racial injustice happening not only in our nation, but in our own backyard.”

Milana Yarbrough, co-president of MBA, said the statement was intended to acknowledge the pain many members of the organization were feeling in the wake of the killings and also to urge the Miami community to start actively opposing racism.

“From this statement, we hoped to address the current circumstances, challenge the Miami community to hold themselves and others accountable, and provide resources for all to start taking action immediately,” Yarbrough said. “As we stated in our letter, the time is now.”

The National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) also addressed the Miami community directly in its May 29 statement, urging white students to use their privilege to speak out against injustice.

“In a community that boasts ‘Love and Honor,’ we challenge the members of the Miami community to recognize your privilege and raise your voice against injustices during these tragic times,” the statement reads. “We ask that you honor and respect our culture. We ask that you honor the memories and lives of those who have been taken.”

phabymr@miamioh.edu

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