Rutgers students from a variety of organizations are holding a protest against racism and police brutality at noon tomorrow at Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus. The protest is one of many across the country sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
Ari Dublin, vice president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly and an Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy senior, reached out to various Black student organizations on campus to see how they felt about the situation and whether they wanted to hold a similar event.
"It's not (the Assembly's) job really to be the voice for one community. (The Assembly) is collective of all communities, and I think it's also very important when one community at Rutgers is being affected the most that we support them, because Black lives really do matter," she said.
Nanette Dande, president of the United Black Council and a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said her organization worked with the Assembly and the Black Student Union to plan the event with the help of a variety of other Black student organizations. She said the event was not about specific organizations, but rather having the Black community and other student organizations stand together in solidarity.
"This is a collective, it's not just three organizations running it. This is the Black Rutgers community coming together," she said.
Dublin said the event will begin with a tabling session at Brower Commons where students can register to vote and complete the census, which she said are important steps for those who want to make a change in society and have the needs of their communities addressed.
Nicholas LaBelle, president of the Assembly and a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said there will be a third table for students to make donations that will be split among a variety of local organizations that address racial and social justice issues. The fundraiser will last throughout the rest of the week.
After the tabling event at 1 p.m., students plan to march across campus, Dande said, stopping at symbolic locations including Old Queens, which is connected to the University's history with slavery, the Paul Robeson memorial and the Sojourner Truth Apartments.
Dande said approximately 7 percent of Rutgers students are Black and the lack of representation in the student body leads to their concerns often being ignored by administrators. She said the protest is supposed to draw attention to the issues Black students face daily.
"This is more than just police brutality, this is also about racism in higher education and just in general," she said. "A lot of students in Black (organizations), including myself, have experienced some sort of discrimination or microaggressions in school."
LaBelle and Dublin said there are a variety of changes that need to happen at Rutgers in the future. They said the Paul Robeson Cultural Center (PRCC) often does not get the repairs it needs, even for simple tasks like ensuring the lights work. Dande said examples like this send a negative message to Black students.
"Some people, they might say 'oh that's small,' but that just also shows how administration doesn't really listen or really see that as a priority, and that makes Black students feel 'okay then you don't care about us, you don't care about our spaces, you don't care about anything,'" she said.
The PRCC has gone through multiple directors in recent years, Dande said, many of whom students felt like did not use their position to advocate for the needs of students and were more concerned with their own reputation. She also said many Black students are concerned that the PRCC is underfunded.
Dande said the University also needs to focus on recruiting more Black students. She said the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) program and the Rutgers Future Scholars program are helpful, but said there are still many students who may not qualify for these programs yet still need additional aid in order to afford tuition.
Black students at Rutgers also have concerns regarding the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD), Dande said. She said many students, including ones outside of the Black community, noticed that the RUPD is quick to respond to events hosted by Black or Latinx students and to shut them down for being disruptive, whereas other events, such as fraternity parties with mostly white students, are allowed to continue largely uninterrupted.
LaBelle said the Assembly passed legislation last year increasing student involvement in the RUPD's hiring process to help students feel more comfortable around officers, but Dande said some students have proposed bolder initiatives. Some students have also raised concerns regarding the New Brunswick Police Department and called for defunding them. She said the University should listen to student opinions regarding how policing should work on campus.
The coronavirus disease pandemic caused Rutgers to cancel all events in April and May in order to practice social distancing. Despite the health risks of holding large gatherings, Dublin and LaBelle said Rutgers administrators were willing to help them with logistics and supplies.
When planning the event, the organizers were told by the University that the RUPD is required to attend the protest, Dande said. She said some students felt uncomfortable having police officers at a police brutality protest. The University suggested officers police the event discreetly, which she said organizers felt even more uncomfortable about.
"People felt like, okay, if RUPD is going to be there, they can be there, but they can't be discreet. They need to be visible and be seen. But just be there and don't say anything because this is a time for Black students … not even just Black students - for people in general who support the movement, who come and speak out against the injustices that happen to Black students," she said.
LaBelle said many of the changes students are advocating for at tomorrow's protest can potentially be addressed under the leadership of University President-elect Jonathan Holloway, the first Black president of Rutgers who officially takes over on July 1.
"Any student at Rutgers really should bear in mind right now (that): We have a new president in less than a month," LaBelle said. "President Holloway coming in, he could be a really good vehicle for change."
LaBelle said transparent bias incident reporting is important in order to hold students and faculty accountable for inappropriate conduct. Dande said faculty and staff should be required to undergo diversity training.
Dublin said the Assembly will research diversity and inclusion this summer in order to be better prepared to make changes in the fall. She said members are already working on legislation that can help address the disparities on campus, which Dande said Black student organizations are helping with.
"It's not just a one-time thing, we're not … spending four hours and venting emotions, because even though that is very important, especially on our mental health, it's really important as well to push action. So it's not a one-time thing," Dublin said. "This is a conversation that moves on after us."