In "Radical rhetoric on U policing is irresponsible" (Opinion Exchange, May 6), Benjamin Ayanian argued that University of Minnesota leaders have bent to "unreasonable demands from emotional individuals who are unswayed by facts" concerning the U police department (UMPD). It is a one-sided view of student activism.
It is essential to consider the history of discrediting people for being "emotional." Words such as "hysterical," "irrational" and "emotional" have long been used to dismiss women as "less stable" than men. In a broader context, such tropes are used to demasculinize those on an opposing side, casting them as incapable of sound judgment due to the presence of emotion.
Certainly, some forms of emotion can be dangerous, as we learned at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but others are the return of repressed feelings of marginalization due to generations of discrimination and inequality. Such sentiment can be a powerful catalyst for meaningful change and activism.
Thus, we must consider what it is that has student activists, such as myself and the Minnesota Student Association, so emotional.
Recent calls for reform stretch back to the murder of George Floyd. However, the demands have intensified in the wake of UMPD's role in suppressing protesters in the aftermath of Daunte Wright's fatal shooting by a Brooklyn Center police officer.
The "unreasonable demands" highlighted include assignment extensions and demilitarization of UMPD. Asking for extensions for students affected by the ongoing trauma among marginalized communities does not seem unreasonable when you consider an empathetic response. As an Asian American, I grieved following the Atlanta spa shootings. Despite this, I was unable to take a break from school which proved detrimental to my mental well-being and academic performance. I do not claim to know what it's like to be a Black student at the U, but I do know that if it's even remotely similar to my experience as an Asian American, a "no-excuse-required extension" is the least our more than $15,000 tuition should afford us.
Likewise, demilitarization is not the radical demand it is made out to be. Does the possession of military-grade hardware by UMPD truly increase safety or trust in police? Divesting such allocated funds to invest in alternative methods of campus safety could have a net positive impact. Members of the student association have acknowledged that the majority of the student body wishes to see a balance between UMPD reform and the understandable desire to feel safe.
Tellingly, the reality of the "misguided, politically convenient" decisions made by President Joan Gabel is that few, if any, have impacted the operational capability of UMPD on campus.
Last, we must acknowledge that when it comes to facts about things such as race, class and gender, such discourse has often been produced by, and for, white people. Take the killing in Ohio of Ma'Khia Bryant, cited in the May 5 piece. The facts say that the 16-year-old was shot four times but that she was holding a knife, thus justifying the police action. Yet, couched within these facts is ignorance of the systemic racism that led to this moment — i.e., the failures of foster care systems that see Black children disproportionately represented as a consequence of institutionalized discrimination.
Moreover, victim-blaming through the uses of caveats such as "but she was holding a knife" only serves to justify injustice while simultaneously ignoring the fact that Bryant was a teenager who, according to some non-policesponsored accounts, was defending herself.
It is a privilege to be able to sit and have an "honest conversation" while other members of the university community face discrimination that, yes, might make them emotional. Committing to solving problems means amplifying the voices of those who are most impacted, not those who have established and enforced the status quo.
President Gabel's so-called "kowtowing" is a reflection of her commitment to supporting all students, not just white students who feel that the university no longer caters solely to their interests. Student activists will indeed continue to push Gabel and the administration, but such is the nature of allyship and activism as a perpetual cycle of change.
If calling out the university to step up its game through "radical" rhetoric means addressing the fundamental causes of inequality through direct action, then sign me up.
Andrew Tisell is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota.