“This is not a problem of some other place or some other time. This is happening right here in Minneapolis.”
the student body president at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, had decided to write her university’s leaders the day after George Floyd’s death. In her letter,
she demanded that the university immediately end its partnerships with the Minneapolis Police Department. Thousands of people signed on.
“As a land-grant institution, statements professing appreciation of diversity and inclusion are empty and worthless if they are not backed up by action,” Kerandi wrote.
“A man was murdered. It is our job as an institution to exert whatever pressure we can to keep our students safe and demand justice in our city and state.”
The next day, the university’s president announced she was limiting ties
with Minneapolis police, no longer contracting with them for support at large events or using them for specialized services.
Kerandi, the university’s first black student body president, hopes her actions inspire people — to act on their values and to hold others accountable, too. This has been “very emotionally taxing,” Kerandi told me this week. “Every day is hard.”
But she’s been encouraged by how many community members have stepped up and by how many students at colleges across the country have contacted her as they push for change, too.
Higher ed, Kerandi says, needs to do more to fight racism and support students. Here’s what she emphasizes:
Public universities are public servants. It’s their duty to educate students, to keep them safe, and to not affiliate with people who are directly contradicting those values, she says. Sometimes, it seems like universities lose sight of these fundamentals—they get caught up in hierarchies, in nuances, in internal discussions about who makes which decisions. But there are clear actions to take.
“Safety includes trust,” Kerandi says. “Students on this campus have been walking around in fear of the police.” That not only threatens safety, she says, it compromises learning.
You have to back our black students now. “Unfortunately, this is not a new norm for black students,” Kerandi says. “This is a wake-up call.” Racism is embedded in the system. You see it in who is accelerated and who is not accelerated in school, she says. You see it in words like “average” and “mediocre.” Who’s being told they’re just “right in the middle”? Those students will start to aim for that.
“We talk about higher education being this transformative experience and its ability for you to transform your life and move an income class or move your socioeconomic status,” Kerandi recently told The Lily,
“but we’re having students, especially students of color and underrepresented students, come to universities and not be set up for success.”
So what do colleges need to do? More. More to support students both earlier and later in their lives, she told me. Help make sure students are starting to prepare for college well before high school. Support them when they get to campus; too often, they feel left on their own. Be involved in what happens after graduation. Help them get internships, educate them about personal finance.
“They should be leaving college with the ability to go up an income class,” she says. When they’re not? “At that point the institution failed, the student did not fail.”
Live your values. “It’s so important to recognize that diversity is not just a word … not just a word on paper and that we get to put on a website,” Kerandi says. “It’s action.”
Uphold the values and ethics you put in your mission statement. Make students your priority, not external donors or local government officials. This needs to start at the top. And this is not just a fight for black students or for brown students or for black and brown faculty, Kerandi says. “It’s a fight for everyone.”