Fifteen students resigned from Miami’s new Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Task Force after they claimed instances of internal strife.
The task force was announced in a campus-wide email from Miami University President Greg Crawford on June 16, with the goal of working with students, faculty and staff to brainstorm and create a more inclusive campus climate.
The resignation letter entitled “We Will Not Work For Free,” which was posted on social media Monday, outlines issues of disorganization, insensitivity, and lack of authority within the task force. The letter also reports that insensitive remarks from a Miami University Police Department (MUPD) representative were not properly addressed.
Not every student on the task force signed the resignation letter. According to the task force members website there are 52 members total. Four of the 15 undergraduate students currently listed did not sign the letter. None of the four PH.D. students signed the resignation.
The resignation was announced during the DEI Task Force’s first town hall meeting covering Dialogue and Allyship. Vicka Bell-Robinson co-chairs the DEI Task Force and was a panelist during the town hall.
“There’s multiple sides to everything,” Bell-Robinson, who is also the university’s Director of Residence Life, said during the town hall. “We’re surprised and disappointed. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to work with students and advocate for students.”
The panelists were made aware of the resignation in the middle of the town hall. Bell-Robinson said during the meeting that she was surprised by the students' decision, but values their time and their voice.
“We are saddened by it, but we respect that,” Bell-Robinson said in the meeting.
Anthony James, DEI task force co-chair, shared Bell-Robinson’s disappointment, but said he also respects the students’ decision.
“My first reaction was surprise, but also understanding that within any movement that there’s going to be individuals that I don’t necessarily agree with,” James said. “I think it’s important to hear what those differences may be.”
Jannie Kamara, Miami Student Body President, was one of the members that resigned. She said the group of students chose to release their statement after learning there would be an open discussion during the second half of the town hall.
“We wanted to put this down today to, one, take a stance, and say enough is enough, and also to get the opportunity to ask the hard questions in the town hall and get answers for the lack of action,” Kamara said.
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Bell-Robinson said she hadn’t received anything from the students about the resignation prior to the announcement on social media. She said she only found out about the resignation when it was sent to her on Instagram.
“No one, even to this point, has reached out,” Bell-Robinson said. “We’ve got to confirm with each student that they no longer want to be a part of it, and if that's true, maybe they’ll want to give additional feedback.”
During the task forces’ second town hall on cultural competency which took place Tuesday, June 14, some panelists addressed the resignation. Sarah Kinley, Bursar Regulatory Coordinator, said that she will be taking notes on ways the task force can do better.
“I said ‘wow this is a call to action,’” Kinley said. “It’s something we have to take very seriously.”
Besides the 15 that resigned Monday, Bell-Robinson said there have been two other resignations. One student who previously resigned wasn’t able to attend the meetings and said they didn’t believe the task force would be effective.
“We’re not better off without student voices,” Bell-Robinson said.
Kamara was asked to be a part of the task force the day before its first meeting. She said her role on the task force wasn’t clear, but she wanted to advocate for students.
“Faculty and staff don’t know our point of view, because they’re faculty and staff,” Kamara said. “In those meetings, a lot of students just faced a lot of invalidation.”
The meetings were held over Google Meet. Bell-Robinson said people indicated when they wanted to speak by raising their hand or commenting in the chat. She said she tried to have everyone on equal footing by allowing students to have access to Google Drive folders and other information.
Kamara said in the first meeting six students were represented. She brought this to the task forces’ attention and advocated for more students to be included.
“Part of the reason there were so many students on the taskforce is there was a request to include more students,” Bell-Robinson said.
During the second task force meeting, Kamara said a representative of MUPD had told the task force that MUPD officers don’t care if students are white, black or yellow.
“You do see the exterior of that person thus you treat them differently because they look different,” Kamara said.
Kamara said she was also disappointed with the representatives use of the word ‘yellow,’ a derogatory term used to describe people of Asian descent.
Bell-Robinson explained that she tried to address the comment in a way that was sensitive to all parties.
“I think sometimes people want there to be a more public shaming and that’s not how I lead,” Bell-Robinson said.
She wanted it to be a learning experience and thought that based on the comment, the representative just didn’t know any better.
Brandon Small, Associated Student Government Secretary for Diversity and Inclusion, was one of the first students asked to be a part of the task force and one of the first signatures on the resignation letter.
He said he attended only the first meeting but noticed the Task Force’s disorganization. Many students were asked to be part of the task force by email a few hours before the first meeting.
Small also noticed during the first meeting, task members were discussing what diversity meant and what bias was.
“I just did not have time for those conversations,” Small said. “We’re going through a crisis right now in terms of students feeling safe and feeling included. We should be past this point. The people that should be in these meetings are people that have already established that level of understanding and specialize in those fields, because that’s what our students need and deserve.”
Ultimately, Kamara decided to resign from the task force with the other 14 students.
“If my voice isn’t being heard, valued and utilized or at least my suggestions aren’t being considered, then why bother using my voice on the task force?” Kamara said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to sit there and be belittled and be invalidated and expect to come back next week happy, jittered and ready to go.”
Bell-Robinson said she would value any feedback from students and would be willing to make changes to improve the task force. She said she and James will consider adding more students to the task force who had previously asked to be a part of it. James was unsure how many students would be added.
“I’m sad I’m connected with an experience where students feel like they’re not heard,” Bell-Robinson said.
Kamara said she wants students to be able to find a home and a family at Miami.
“This year, I want change,” Kamara said. “We all want change, and change is going to happen.”