By Maggie Phillips
In early August, a group of Cleveland State University students announced a protest demonstrating the university’s failure to address racial discrimination. In light of a recent meeting with President Sands, the protest organizers-Aminat Adebayo, LaNiqua Jones, Bridgette Lewis, and Lotus Wilson-decided to postpone the protest to Sep 24th.
While the protest was set to occur earlier this month, this fight began around 7 months ago, following an incident between the African Student Association (ASA) & Black Student Union (BSU) and the Theta Phi Alpha (TPA) sorority.
At the end of February, the ASA & BSU held their annual Black History Month event where members, along with their friends and family, celebrated with food, games, dancing, and music. According to Adebayo, the event was going well until the president of TPA entered their room during the latter half of their celebration. She accused them of being too loud and being in the room TPA had reserved. Adebayo suggested TPA talk to conference services about the confusion.
Shortly after, the Cleveland State University Police Department (CSUPD) arrived at the scene. As the energy in the room began to dwindle, Adebayo left the event to speak to the CSUPD alone, instructing everyone to stay in the room so the situation would not escalate.
“They called CSUPD after I repeatedly told them that they need to go to conference services,” said Adebayo. “That experience-especially the CSUPD part-was the most intense, the scariest situation I’ve ever been in, because I wasn’t sure if anything bad was going to happen to me or anybody in the room.” She continued, “the police were weaponized that night against us.”
Immediately following the event, Adebayo, Jones, and Lewis reported the incident to multiple CSU departments, and have reached out to at least 13 administrators at CSU. Throughout the numerous meetings the women attended, they recalled being purposefully interrupted and muted on zoom calls, feeling interrogated rather than listened to. According to Lewis, there is no proof that the university has conducted a thorough investigation, despite claims that one occurred. In addition, the only remedial action the university suggested was a mediation between the four women and TPA.
Lewis said “[a mediation] doesn’t address any of the issues that happened, that doesn’t address any systemic issues that we’ve received in the process, that doesn’t address any issues with CSUPD…if nothing happens to TPA, or if something very miniscule happens to TPA, [CSU’s] message is that weaponizing the police is not zero tolerance. We’ll tolerate it a little bit, just don’t do it again.”
After meeting with President Sands, they agreed to give the university two weeks to take action and follow through on their promises. A statement was released on the Department of Student Life web page, which can be found here.
While the women are frustrated by both the incident and CSU’s response, they are not surprised. Jones had been working with the University to correct CSU’s current policies regarding racial discrimination, but was subsequently left out of further collaboration after the incident with TPA.
“They have all these task forces and student coalition groups that I was talking about in January and I was not even included in the conversation on who should be in these spaces,” remarked Jones. Despite her frustrations, Jones still believes” this is [Sands] opportunity to do something and to help. That’s personally why I was fine with postponing [the protest] because I do give people the chance to correct their mistakes.”
Wilson, an alumna of CSU, has attended the event for the last seven years, and joined the celebration with her three kids this year. After seeing how little the university did to respond to the incident, Wilson felt obligated to help Adebayo, Jones, and Lewis.
Wilson wanted to emphasize that this is a systemic issue and wants CSU to make this “an example for all CSU communities, to say ‘look, this is zero tolerance, and we’re not going to have this kind of discrimination and this kind of weaponizing of the police so you can have your way.’”
TPA posted a statement in response to the incident, addressing the issue through social media. They claimed their actions that night were indeed a “racial micro-aggression,” but believe the overall situation was a miscommunication.