Blacks protest at Miami U.
Students endure rain to state case

Wednesday, November 11, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

About 100 black students protested for three hours and blocked traffic at U.S 27 and Ohio 73.
(Dick Swaim photo)

| ZOOM |
OXFORD - Nearly 100 black Miami University students - angry about an Oct. 30 racial incident and impatient with race relations on the Oxford campus - took to the streets Tuesday.

The group, with arms linked and carrying signs that read "Stop Hate" and "We won't tolerate hate," blocked traffic at the busy U.S. 27 and Ohio 73 intersection near campus.

Their three-hour protest was not violent, and there were no injuries or arrests.

They gathered to send a message to Miami administrators and students: Something must be done to ease racial tension on the picturesque campus.

An Oct. 30 incident at the college's Center for Black Culture and Learning sparked Tuesday's protest. Racially charged messages supporting the Ku Klux Klan were posted on bulletin boards. A hand-scrawled drawing showed an African-American being hanged. Also, words on computer-screen savers were changed to include racist messages.

"Racial incidents happen every year at Miami," said Brad Allen, a fourth-year student from Cleveland. "We want to change the environment. If you're always watching your back, you can't concentrate on learning."

Miami officials say they are investigating the October incident. The building had been locked up for the night, and there were no signs of forced entry or damage, said Richard Little, senior director of university communications.

"While on the surface it appears to be racially motivated, we're pursuing that and other possibilities as well," Mr. Little said, declining to elaborate.

The action is an effort "to divide Miami University," he added. "The students are letting this happen if they point fingers and cast blame," he said. "We should not let something that is idiotic or harmful get in the way of the progress we're making."

Miami officials acknowledge the college is not as diverse as they want it to be, Mr. Little said. But minority enrollment has doubled in the past decade and there is an "ambitious plan for recruitment of minority students and staff," he added.

Representatives of the Black Student Action Association, which led Tuesday's rally, are to discuss race-related issues today with Miami President James Garland. He was in Columbus on business Tuesday.

It marks the second time in 19 months protests about race relations have been held on the Oxford campus. In March 1997, the Black Action Movement, consisting of about 150 students concerned about diversity and race relations on campus, rallied at the administration building and met with university leaders the next day.

They sought better recruitment and representation of minority students, faculty and staff. Nine days later, the college announced a sweeping plan to recruit and retain more people of color.

In a 25-page document, Mr. Garland agreed to several things, including the establishment of a President's Council on Multicultural Affairs, completion of a diversity plan, and speeding up plans to expand Miami's multicultural center.

It also comes on the heels of a violent altercation off-campus earlier this year. Two white men reportedly yelled racial epithets as they severely beat a black Miami student, in what was called a racially motivated attack. Both attackers received six-year prison sentences.

Rally participant Jerome Johnson said the purpose of Tuesday's gathering was to inform people about conditions at Miami.

"There's not enough diversity here," he said.

Mr. Little said the university does not try to hide racial incidents. Administrators issued a news release about the Oct. 30 incident, for instance, he said.

"This place is changing," Mr. Little said. "I know the heart of the university and the commitment of the administration is to change. But whether the protest today and the blocking of streets and causing a safety hazard accomplished anything, I'm not sure."

Janice Morse contributed to this report.

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