Some Black UMD students appreciate Pines’ actions, but others say he lacks urgency

Saba Tshibaka, University of Maryland student and one of the organizers of Black Terps Matter, announces the group's demands on the steps of the Main Administration Building on July 1, 2020. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

University of Maryland President Darryll Pines began his tenure against the backdrop of a nation once again grappling with the racism that clogs its institutions. In an effort to meet the moment, on his first day, Pines released a series of steps the university would take to fight racism on its campus, such as launching a program with anti-racism training for new students and employees.

Since then, the university has announced other initiatives and plans to promote inclusion. Most recently, the school created a task force to improve community policing on the campus. However, Black student leaders at this university have had mixed reactions to the steps taken so far by the administration. 

Over the summer, Black Terps Matter organized a set of demonstrations — which were alternately attended by Pines, student affairs vice president Patty Perillo and diversity and inclusion vice president Georgina Dodge — and released a list of 10 demands for administrators to meet.

Among many requests, the anti-racist coalition is calling for the school to end its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the industrial arm of Maryland’s prison system as well as mandate racial bias and anti-racism training for everyone at the university. But since the group released the demands in June, senior philosophy, politics and economics major Saba Tshibaka said she feels they still haven’t gained traction.

For instance, although Pines announced on his first day that University of Maryland Police would be divesting from the Defense Department’s 1033 program — which provided excess military equipment to local law enforcement — Tshibaka said she hasn’t seen administrators try to reevaluate the “hyper-excessive” budget of the police department, as Black Terps Matter is requesting.

Pines may assert that “Black Lives Matter” in campuswide emails, but Tshibaka says that’s not enough.

“What he is not doing is taking one step past that and talking about the main issue that everyone that’s saying ‘Black Lives Matter’ is talking about,” she said. “The issue is police brutality.” 

Previously, Tshibaka has also criticized Pines for not engaging with students as much as she’d like him to, exchanging terse words with him at a Black Faculty and Staff Association meeting last month. 

However, according to a statement from university spokesperson Hafsa Siddiqi, university leaders have been regularly meeting with Black student leaders. She followed the statement with a list of a series of meetings. 

Still, Tshibaka said she’s concerned about what she sees as a lack of accountability and transparency from the administration. 

“What we need to stop doing is doing things without timelines,” Tshibaka said. “Like putting out an anti-racism action plan and saying that you’re going to do training for faculty members and not putting a timeline on that.”

[UMD students push for anti-racist action from theatre and dance school]

Before his retirement, former university President Wallace Loh stated in an June 24 email titled “Anti-Racism Action Plan” that the university would create a website to track each of its anti-racism initiatives to “hold ourselves accountable.” The website is currently being made, according to a statement from a university spokesperson.

Pauline Sow, the Student Government Association’s director of diversity and inclusion, shared Tshibaka’s concerns about accountability. She said she understands things take time, but it’s important to know just how long it’ll take to implement plans and initiatives.

“If the admin sent out information, like, this one proposal is gonna take two years — well, there are sophomores right now. Once they get to senior year and they don’t see anything implemented, they can easily say, ‘All right, well, you guys said this two years ago, I was there,’” said Sow, who is also president of the Black Alliance Network, an organization of student leaders representing all Black organizations on the campus.

But while Sow thinks more accountability is necessary, she says she’s been “quite happy” regarding her communication with the administration. So far, she said she’s been able to meet with Pines, Perillo and Dodge to pitch proposals to enhance inclusion on the campus.

“They’ve either been extremely open to that proposal, or if the proposal wasn’t on target, they’ve helped me figure out a way that works with what they believe is the right task, but still maintaining the integrity of the proposal,” said Sow, a senior dance, economics and government and politics major. 

For instance, when Sow suggested consistently surveying students about their thoughts on the campus climate and what they think the university could improve upon, she said administrators told her that her proposal could be expensive, and climate surveys often say too little. 

By working with the administration, though, Sow said she was able to narrow her recommendation to the university, suggesting that it instead conducts more targeted surveys — such as including more diversity-related questions on move-out surveys sent out by the Department of Resident Life.

While Sow said she is typically skeptical of new administrations, she noted there is sometimes a “honeymoon phase,” in which a new president comes into power and she’s content with their actions in the beginning. She also said that upper administrators, especially Pines, shouldn’t be the only ones that need to be held accountable. Students should make their concerns known to individual departments as well, Sow said. 

“Our frustration needs to be spread out across the university,” she said. 

Three other Black student leaders also voiced optimism about the actions the university has taken. 

Zahrah Siddiq, president of this university’s NAACP chapter, said the doors for communication are more open for this administration than they have been before.

“I feel like we are making steps or progress, especially with Dr. Pines,” she said. “You can tell that he’s actively reaching out, not only to Black Alliance Network’s presidents, but also the community itself with all his solidarity emails. He’s sending out resources, which I personally appreciate as being a person of color on campus.”

[Pines talks social injustice, COVID-19 in State of the Campus address to UMD Senate]

Though Siddiq said she recognizes students may be frustrated some initiatives have not been immediately implemented, she pointed out that there’s a reason for the delay.

“If you want things to work efficiently for a long period of time, it is going to take time in itself,” said Siddiq, a junior kinesiology major. 

Rachelle Wakefield, president of the Black Student Union, echoed Siddiq’s sentiments.

“I just like to believe that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s going to take time to get certain initiatives passed,” she said.

That’s something Wakefield says university leaders have also told her when she’s met with them. She said she’s been meeting with Perillo monthly, along with other student leaders, to share her organization’s concerns.

“In our conversation with Patty, she said that there’s some things that can’t really be fixed now,” said Wakefield, a senior public health science and public policy major. “Like Black enrollment, we can’t really focus on that now when we have coronavirus, but it’s something that they are willing to do in the future.”

Although African American students made up just over 11 percent of last year’s freshman class, two years ago, the enrollment of Black freshmen at this university fell to 7.3 percent — the lowest proportion since the school started tracking the data in 1992.

Ester Vincent, a junior finance and international business major and president of the African Student Association, said she also has had good, open conversations with university administrators. In a conversation with Perillo, Vincent said they discussed highlighting Black spaces on the campus, such as the Nyumburu Cultural Center. 

“Right now on campus tours, the cultural center isn’t pointed out, which is really bad because that’s where Black student organizations meet. That’s where events are held,” Vincent said. “It’s our safe space.” 

She said when she expressed her concerns, Perillo was on her organization’s side. 

“I really appreciate them keeping us in the loop and making sure that we’re aware, and also bouncing ideas off of us, because I feel like in the previous administration that wasn’t done,” Vincent said. 

While some Black student organizations have expressed their support for the new administration and their actions thus far, Tshibaka said Black Terps Matter will continue to push for change at the university, striving to continue the momentum of the movement this fall.

Last week, the group hosted three unlearning and healing sessions, a series of discussions on the “most important issues plaguing the most vulnerable populations” online. 

The group also launched its second action plan Sept. 1, which originally included a link to the Black Terps Matter, Preventing Sexual Assault and Prison Resistance Project’s independent reporting system for sexual assault, hate and racial bias and misconduct by university police. However, this part was cut due to budget restrictions. There’s also a video showing the group’s proposal to end Resident Life’s involvement with University Police for non-emergencies. 

“As long as we can and as long as we have support, we will continue fighting,” Tshibaka said.

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article said the school renamed the women’s studies department after Harriet Tubman. The renaming effort was instead spearheaded by the department itself and approved by the Board of Regents. Additionally, due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article said Black Terps Matter hosted three events at the Nyumburu Amphitheater.  These events were held virtually. This article has been updated.

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