Students protest president’s comments

Through notes on napkins, Instagram posts, stories, hard work and dedication, students led a protest on the steps of Old Main on Sept 15.

Eliza Hagstrom, Guest Reporter

Freddie Buergin Witt

Many students spoke about the words said by President Fayneese Miller at the Sept. 11 Student Organization Leader Workshop Fair and shared their thoughts and feelings during a Sept. 15 protest. 

The protest drew an estimated 300 students throughout the 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. event, organizer and senior Kinzie McDowell said. 

McDowell outlined the three goals the protest had as “demanding a public apology” from Miller, holding her accountable and having her commit to a conversation with students. 

“Within that apology, we are wanting her to acknowledge the fact that she has caused harm to our student body. Our second demand today is that… she be held accountable for the harm that she has caused and provide us with actionable steps and a concrete plan of how she’s going to ensure that further harm… [does] not occur. And thirdly, we are demanding that she commit and create a plan on how to include students whose voices matter around campus,” McDowell said.

Before McDowell spoke, the mic was passed to senior Julien Halabi, who did a land acknowledgment. They stated how the land we call Minnesota is the tribal land of the Lakota and Anishinaabe people. 

McDowell and senior LaNiesha Bisek, junior Brian Perez Cortez and sophomore Abi Grace Mart planned this protest. McDowell also credited senior Kristin Bohn and junior Josh Sedarski for their support in the planning. 

The protest had water provided by Hamline Public Safety, which had members of their staff positioned around the Old Main Lawn at the start of the protest.

“I would like to ask President Miller personally, when in my time at Hamline, has she served me over her own wallet?” Mart said. “Was it when she continued to raise tuition during a worldwide pandemic that devastated families financially? Was it when she said buildings were just too old and it would cost too much for renovations? Was it when she … put her office in Old Main, a building with no wheelchair access? If some of the student body are not represented, then none of the student body is represented.” 

Senior Kinzie McDowell, protest organizer delivers her opening speech.Freddie Buergin Witt

Hamline Undergraduate Student Congress (HUSC) Political Affairs Committee chair and worker in the Dean of Students’ office sophomore Travis Matthews brought a unique perspective on the student-administration relationship. He echoes others’ thoughts on the remarks as being classist and elitist. He reminded students how Miller made those statements, not all of the administration of Hamline University. 

“This might be an unpopular opinion, but not all administration at Hamline are guilty of the falling short of Hamline. There are admin here that will battle for students every single time,” Matthews said. “Working in the Dean of Students Office has allowed me to see a different side of campus that a majority of students don’t get to see. And that’s the level of investment some of these admin have for their students … There are admin here who truly care and are on your side.”

  Speakers continued throughout the day, intermingled with time for attendees to have conversations. 

“President Miller, professors are not the problem, staff are not the problem, students are not the problem; your administration’s bigotry is. More students would want to stay at Hamline if they felt safe. But you have shown it is not your true concern,” speaker and sophomore Cameron Stockwell said. 

Senior Jazmin Clausen-Thomas expressed that when she was asked to speak at the protest, she felt it her duty to do so. That her being a Black woman and a student leader on campus were important perspectives to hear from. 

“What was said in President Miller’s speech impacts all of us, but I think it’s important to recognize that it impacts us in different ways. As a woman of color at this university, with a president that is an African-American woman, her words stuck to me. And I thought her words were very offensive,” Clausen-Thomas said. “She is the first African-American woman to be the head of this institution, therefore, like everywhere else in society, she is expected to act a certain way. She is someone I am supposed to look up to, someone I should see myself becoming. Representation is not effective if the representative is not doing their job. Current Hamline students should not be the audience for a donation speech.” 

Miller’s words were also played on speakers during the protest for those attending to hear the full context of what everyone was speaking about. 

First-year speakers Forestasia Aune and Hayley Magoon both emphasized that these words broke the vision they had of this school being as “amazing” as they thought it would be when they applied.

“Don’t ask for more from those who are currently giving. There was a demand for phones to be shown, a warped indication of status. I’m able to have a phone due to a plan, I am able to be here because I’m from a low income household and I have the correct scholarships,” Aune said. 

Another one of these factors speaker Magoon mentioned was the low graduate rate she saw when looking at Hamline. 

Students made signs to communicate their message. (Freddie Buergin Witt)

“When I was looking in Hamline as a possible option for my undergraduate studies, I noticed so many great things. I also noticed some concerning things, one of those was the graduation rate. I wondered how the graduation rate could be so low, 63%, at a school that seemed to be great in every way. Until earlier this week,” Magoon said. 

Students in attendance also expressed their opinions, sharing their thoughts and feelings through conversations and discussion.

“I don’t understand the mentality of going into a student leadership workshop and then asking them for money because like a lot of student leaders don’t get paid for the work that they’re doing on campus and those who do get paid are getting paid as work-study. The fact that that’s kind of thrown back into the student leaders’ faces is kind of uncalled for and tone deaf,” Attendee and senior Destiny Yang said. 

These words of students who spoke and shared their thoughts are only a handful of those shared throughout the 11:30 a.m. to roughly 6:00 p.m protest. Videos of some of the speeches can be seen on the Oracle website. 

At the end of the protest, the organizers invited all the student body to attend a student forum that they are putting together. As of Sept. 16, they have not decided on a time or location but will announce it on Instagram: @kinzie_mcdowell. 

Clips of some of the speakers will be up on the Oracle website and Instagram @HamlineOracle.