Students protest a lack of response to reports of discrimination

“FSU does not include! We can’t breathe at FSU!” a crowd of students chanted as they marched through campus on Dec. 15 protesting a lack of administrative response to four reported incidents of discrimination.

The protest began with approximately 20 students and continued to grow to almost 40 as they traveled from the library, to the front of the Residence Life office before ending in front of Crocker Grove in front of Dwight Hall.

As they stopped at each location, the group of students participated in a “die-in,” during which the students chanted, “I can’t breathe!” and fell to the ground as one of the protest leaders, junior Fernando Rodriguez, spoke about the reason for the protest.

“There is a suffocating environment here at Framingham State University where students are not getting the treatment they deserve from the administration here at this school,” said Rodriguez.

He talked about how people all across the country had been protesting the lack of indictments in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner.

“Although we are in solidarity with these protests, we feel as though we have our own injustices here on our campus,” Rodriguez said.

He went on to recount the events that led to the protest, which included reports of a racial slur written on and an inappropriate image drawn on a Hispanic Heritage Month information board in Towers. In Horace Mann, a swastika was carved into a door and was not investigated as a hate crime. A puzzle club poster was filled in with a homophobic slur. Finally, there was a report of a student desk worker who was called a racial epithet by a parent, but allegedly the student was told that the security cameras that record the activities were not working that day.

Rodriguez said in his speech that many students are unaware of the incidents because the administration hasn’t brought enough awareness to these issues.

He called for “clear and transparent policies that address how these issues are supposed to be handled. We need to keep the school accountable for the moments where no response is given.”

FSU President Javier Cevallos responded to the protest in an email to the campus community, saying, “I was disheartened to learn that some students feel the University has not taken these incidents of bias and hate seriously. I want to assure you that we take them very seriously.”

According to Cevallos, there had been floor meetings in the residence halls to address these incidents after they occurred. He added, “As a result of this feedback, I’ve formed a Bias Protocol Group to review our protocols around responding to these incidents,” which Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sean Huddleston has assembled this semester.

According to Cevallos, the group includes “some of the students that were involved in the protests last semester. … I am sure they will translate that energy to the Bias Protocol Committee.”

On Dec. 22, the Campus Police posted a notice to their Facebook page that said the department will now be investigating the swastika that was carved on a Residence Hall door as a hate crime.

Sociology professor Vincent Ferraro, who watched part of the protest, said, “I think this is a much needed display of student solidarity and a powerful message that a major portion of the student body feels marginalized. I very much support a call for open dialogue and discussion.”

English professor Lisa Eck, who also saw the protest, said she was glad to see students creating a climate where hate crimes are a priority. “It’s got to be everyone’s priority.”

Senior fashion major Corey Ortiz saw the protest as he walked by, and said, “I think it’s really interesting.” He said he was glad students were trying to raise awareness, but that it was “heartbreaking” because it won’t necessarily stop incidents like the ones being protested from happening.

Senior fashion major Angie Brutus was also walking by the protest. She said she was “so happy” students were speaking out and added that she “hopes administration sees and hears” what students are saying.

Victoria Ferrara, a sophomore communication arts major, said she thinks the protest was “disrupting people with finals, so people are upset about that. But otherwise, it’s good.”

Colton Madore, a freshman fashion major, who was walking by the protest, said, “I get what they’re doing, but I don’t know what it’s supposed to accomplish.”

Tremain Bell, a junior communication arts major, who participated in the protests, said the protest is “something we shouldn’t have to do. We don’t pay to go to school here to have to do this.”

Malia Wambolt, a nutrition major who walked by the protest, said she thought it was “nice to see students come together as one voice rather than just allow that to happen.”

Photos by Jeff Poole and Brad Leuchte