Whose Diversity Are We Representing?

An inside look at the Whose Diversity? sit-in and its repercussions

Max Smith

Max Smith

There has been a lot of coverage of the sit-in that occurred on Feb. 9 in Morrill Hall regarding issues of diversity and representation in the University. The group at the center of these discussions is Whose Diversity?, an organization of undergraduate and graduate students from marginalized communities and others who support their cause. One of the group’s organizers, Joanna Nuñez, spoke with The Wake about the details of the sit-in and the events that led up to the arrest of the 13 members of the group.

Whose Diversity? initiated the sit-in at approximately 11:30 a.m. that morning. Armed with a list of demands for the administration regarding the experiences of minority groups in the University and the measures necessary to transform that representation, the students waited in a room adjacent to President Kaler’s office for the chance to discuss their demands with him.

“We received more than 700 signatures from faculty, staff and students in support of our demands in just a few days,” said Nuñez. Whose Diversity?’s decision to present the points when they did stemmed from a series of conflicts over past attempts at discussion. In the last year, Whose Diversity? staged a number of protests, receiving sanctions accusing them of violating the student code of conduct. This past December, they met with President Kaler to discuss several pressing issues.

“At this meeting, President Kaler made a commitment to end racialized crime alerts by the end of the year [2014],” Nuñez said. However, he did not follow through on the promise, provoking Whose Diversity? to take action in a more direct manner.

Once inside the office, the group stated that they would not be leaving until a written commitment was made to address the eight demands presented, according to Nuñez. The goal of the sit-in was to force a discussion of the issues they felt were being neglected by the administration. While they did receive a written response, the members remained in the building until after it closed, even after receiving threats of arrest on the grounds of trespassing.

When asked why they did not leave, Nuñez opened up about the experience in the office.  “We stayed because a written response to our demands was given to us minutes before the end of the business day. President Kaler had been in closed-door meetings with his staff all day, not in negotiations with us, preparing this document. Yet we were given almost no time to discuss their response to us.  President Kaler left at 5 p.m. after reading us his response, showing no interest in our response or in ‘negotiating.’ We asked the administration for time to deliberate, at which point the administration told us that the office was now officially closed and that we were trespassing,” she said. At 6 p.m., they were given a warning and three members exited. The remaining 13 were arrested at approximately 7:30 p.m.

We asked the administration for time to deliberate, at which point the administration told us that the office was now officially closed and that we were trespassing,” Nuñez said.

Whose Diversity? believes the lack of proper communication between their group and the administration during the sit-in is representative of the response to their efforts to achieve change over the last year. Nuñez said that the neglect shown to the group continued in the email sent out by President Kaler following the sit-in.

“It portrayed the events as though we were engaged in negotiations the entire time,” Nuñez said. “We were not. There was no discussion of [the] force used by police to keep us out of President Kaler’s office, or of intimidation tactics like…denying members of our collective access to food and the restroom while [we] were there.”

Further attempts were made to exclude Whose Diversity? from the discussions when President Kaler called a meeting to discuss the sit-in with leaders of the student community. The group itself was not invited, but many of its members are from the Student Cultural Centers and were a strong presence at the meeting. “We are not a ‘fringe’ group,” Nuñez said. “We are connected to the needs and desires of many students across the University who know the marginalization that we speak of.”

When asked what she believes is the biggest problem with representation in this university, Nuñez said, “Administrators make decisions in the name of ‘diversity’ but they fail to listen to the voices of the people who represent that ‘diversity.’ They want diversity at this University without wanting our bodies here. They want diversity but they are unwilling to offer us protection; instead, they criminalize and silence us.”

With the events of late, one could wonder how Whose Diversity? and their supporters could remain optimistic about the change for which they are advocating.

Nuñez said, “Administrators make decisions in the name of ‘diversity’ but they fail to listen to the voices of the people who represent that ‘diversity.”

“We do this work because we believe we can transform this University. This sit-in has already created alliances we could not have imagined prior to the sit-in,” Nuñez said. “The University is yet to see the power of student, staff, and faculty voices. It should act now, and stand on the side of justice with us.”