Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
If you ask anyone who’s been in a perpetual talking stage, they’ll tell you that it’s frustrating — you put in months of agonizing emotional labor with the hopes of a relationship with a person that isn’t willing to commit, but your efforts end up futile.
When it comes to anti-racism, I think we’re in a never-ending talking stage with the University of Maryland. It seems the administration can’t stop talking about what it takes to be anti-racist instead of legitimately taking action and incorporating anti-racist practices into its policies.
After Black student leaders created a list of 31 demands for the university’s administration following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, many students hoped we would see actual change on the campus. These recommendations were bare minimum efforts the university could implement in order to make Black students feel safe and valued on campus. But it’s been 332 days since George Floyd’s death, 182 more Black people have died at the hands of police and most of these recommendations are simply “in progress.”
I’ll admit any progress, albeit small, is good — in fact, I welcome it. Some of the demands Black student leaders brought up are things that will take time, like improving recruitment from Prince George’s County. But other issues, along with some of the demands, I think are more easily addressed, if not for unnecessary red tape.
Take the issue of removing Francis Scott Key’s name from a building, which is not explicitly part of the student leaders’ demands, but important nonetheless. The Student Government Association election includes a referendum question asking if Key violated the university’s values, listing some of Key’s actions, including owning slaves and serving as a prominent member of the anti-abolitionist American Colonization Society. Granted, Key did represent some enslaved people fighting for their freedom in court. But he was actively pro-slavery and legitimately thought people of color were inferior to white people.
Depending on the referendum’s results, the SGA will bring an official proposal to the administration to remove Key’s name from what is currently Francis Scott Key Hall. From there, university President Darryll Pines will form a special committee while the request is under formal review, and subsequently decide whether any action is necessary.
If this institution is actively trying to be anti-racist, then removing Key’s name from the building on McKeldin Mall shouldn’t be this hard. The University System of Maryland wants the renaming of buildings to be rare, but there are better solutions than making Black students wait for the decision of a special committee while they go to class in a building emblazoned with a slave owner’s name. And I’m almost certain renaming buildings would be a much rarer occasion if we didn’t name buildings after racists in the first place. We owe our Black students more due diligence than to delay action in the name of “discussion.”
As with many of the student demands, such as defunding the University of Maryland Police and redistributing resources to Black student organizations, and divesting from prison labor, the university seems to be hiding behind task forces, town halls and continued studies. And most of these conversations are led by students, faculty and professionals of color, who bear the emotional labor of reliving their own traumas for the education of white people in power — all in the hopes of potential change.
And this could still be for nothing. Even after the Task Force on Community Policing releases its recommendations at the end of the semester, Pines told The Diamondback the administration will determine “what is doable and what is not doable.”
Conversations are important, but I can’t imagine there is almost a year’s worth of conversation to have — unless the university is compromising on some of the issues Black student leaders voiced. My concern is that the longer we continue to form advisory committees and create dashboards without concrete action, the less overall investment there will be in solving the issues at hand.
This incessant bureaucracy, particularly on concerns that have been voiced for so long, feels like a cop-out on the university’s part. Meetings mean nothing without action, especially when it comes to fulfilling the basic needs of students of color on campus.
Shreya Vuttaluru is a sophomore government and politics and journalism major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.