On Feb. 22, 1999, students gathered in Wallis Hall to demand recognition of diversity at UR. To preserve the memory of this protest, the Black Students Union held a meeting Monday titled “Revisiting of the Protest.”

The meeting stressed the need to pass on the spirit of that protest to current underclassmen who may not be aware of the history.

Vice President and General Secretary Dean Paul Burgett began the meeting by going over his experiences with student demands and institutional changes, going back to a BSU protest in 1969 in which students took over Meliora Hall for three days. With regards to the nature of change at a university such as this one, Burgett said, “Progress is hardly ever made in huge leaps, progress is made in small, incremental steps.”

Burgett pointed out that there were many accomplishments from the protest three years ago, notably getting a Diversity Admissions Statement instituted, and getting the university to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year.

Burgett also stressed the fact that there are still unresolved issues. Referring to underrepresented minorities in the faculty and administration he said, “In real numbers it’s still an embarrassment ? as a percentage it’s gotten better.”

After discussing the need for continuity and people to step forward in order to tell the next chapter of this story, he introduced Damien Polite from the class of 1999.

Polite was one of the four leaders from the protest in 1999 that negotiated with President Thomas Jackson and was able to get the demands of the Minority Student Advisory Board met by putting them down in writing.

He discussed how the events that led to the protest were a long and arduous process that took a lot of effort, reiterating that progress in institutions takes time. “We weren’t just angry students who were upset,” Polite said. “There was a lot of planning involved.”

He went over the origins of the movement as beginning with a few politically- minded people who were in tune to the intangibles of the quality of life, such as exhaustion and apathy among other students.

From a base of common concerns and experiences, they were able to spread the word to other students, which furthered the original concerns.

“We felt that we weren’t alone after a while,” he said. “We heard the voices of so many students.”

Polite also stressed that his main fear was that the protest would be forgotten, when it was really just a beginning ? the reason that this meeting was so important. “Start right here,” he said. “Just the fact that you showed up here shows that you’re in tune to the intangibles. It shows that things can be better.” There was an overwhelming sentiment that there is still much to be done in the university community, but the meeting was a step in the right direction.

Senior Teri Peart closed the meeting with a report on the current state of MSAB and the current issues. The main concerns were that the number of underrepresented minority students recruited by the university is still around 10 percent, and the dropout rate also has been shooting up over the past few years.

There were mixed reactions on the turnout of the meeting. Polite, who was very pleased to see how many students attended, said, “This happening tonight put my fears to rest in many ways.” He also added that he was not disappointed with the way the administration has handled the demands made in the protest in the years since then, and said of the administrators, “Just like students, they have to be reminded.”

“I’m worried that future classes will forget about it,” said Monique Peters, a senior who was at the protest. “There are still problems that need to be addressed.”

Peart, who was at the original protest, said she was somewhat disappointed by the turnout of underclassmen, since a large reason for holding the meeting was to help them become informed. “It takes a constant vigilance to keep people involved and informed,” she said. “Tonight was a step in the right direction.”

Muhlenberg can be reached at dmuhlenberg@campustimes.org.



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