Students Toward a New Democracy (aka S.T.A.N.D.) said Monday that University of Miami administrators have opened a disciplinary process against the organization for using chalk on sidewalks to pressure the university to work with residents of a historically black neighborhood where the school is building a new biotech research park.
S.T.A.N.D. has called on the university to sign a Community Benefits Agreement for the publicly funded Life Science and Technology Park project currently under construction in Overtown, a historically black Miami neighborhood.
In a press release S.T.A.N.D. states:
University of Miami administration have tried to infringe on student’s freedom of assembly, mark related emails as spam, blocked emails from a student email address, removed innocent flyers, and have tried to criminalize messages written in children’s sidewalk chalk.
Stephanie Sandhu, a Miami student and member of S.T.A.N.D., tells The Florida Independent she was called to the office of Dayle Wilson, assistant dean of students, where she was told S.T.A.N.D. was accused of vandalism for using chalk on a sidewalk. The organization has documented other university measures they call censorship. (Read the full document below.)
“I’ve used chalk for four years and never had anyone tell me it was wrong. I have photographic evidence of other students using it,” Sandhu says, adding that the content of the chalk message was related to the Life Science & Technology Park in Overtown.
She explains that once a student organization is charged with a major offense there is a disciplinary hearing and that, this late in the semester, the disciplinary decision can be taken by a judicial officer alone.
“I’m concerned about the environment that is being created in our campus,” Sandhu says. “Students are afraid to speak up, and a student organization that is challenging a university to a higher moral standard should not be afraid to speak out.”
In response to questions from the Independent about disciplinary action, Margot Winick, assistant vice president for media relations at the University of Miami, writes:
“The University of Miami has not requested or mandated that any of our more than 250 student organizations be disbanded during the 2010-2011 academic year, or in advance of the 2011-2012 academic year. All recognized student organizations are expected to comply with University policies and are held accountable for any violations of our Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook,” said Dr. Pat Whitely, Vice President for Student Affairs, University of Miami.
John De Leon, attorney, and member of the board of the Florida ACLU tells the Independent his organization will monitor the disciplinary actions Miami brings against S.T.A.N.D.
“If there is one place where diverse points of view should be expressed, [it] is in a university,” DeLeon adds. “It is concerning when the university takes actions to prevent certain people to participate in activities, discourage expression and take directed actions as to some people and not to others. For example, the chalk on the sidewalks is apparently done by many groups and allegedly there are no actions taken against some groups, while this group has been targeted.”
At the core of this disciplinary process is the university’s Life Science project. S.T.A.N.D., residents, and community leaders have called on Miami to support a Community Benefits Agreement for the construction of the university’s publicly funded project in Overtown. (Read the full document below.)
Bishop James Adams, a pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church and the chairman of the Overtown Community Oversight Board, tells The Independent he has not seen anything concrete to show that Overtown residents are receiving employment as a result of the Life Science project.
In a statement published by the Miami Hurricane, Adams wrote:
A recent Miami Herald editorial, and UM responses have dismissively cited that those expressing a desire for the UM Life Science and Technology Park/Wexford to commit to a long-term investment in the neighborhood are ‘a few community activists’.
There is an entire neighborhood whose voice is going unheard! The Overtown Community Oversight Board (OCOB) has recently drafted a resolution on behalf of the Overtown community, asking that a Community Benefits Agreement be drafted and that residents are represented at the negotiating table.
The Overtown Community Oversight Board was created by the city of Miami to “encourage and support housing, job creation, economic and business development, educational opportunities and historic and cultural preservation” and works with the office of city commissioner Richard Dunn II.
Jordan Thomas, University of Miami student and a member of S.T.A.N.D., tells the Independent he believes the college will not sign the Community Benefits Agreement. Thomas says the university and Wexford Miami, the company building the park, are set to receive millions in public financing for the biotech facility, and the only people who stand to lose anything are the folks from Overtown. He says that the university points to promises about training, but nothing has developed since the issue was first mentioned in 2009.