Photo by Yael Calderon
Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota (SMU) students demonstrate on campus in Winona on Monday. They urged the university to work with students to create an inclusive campus community and denounce the actions of SMU alum Kim Potter, the police officer charged in the killing of Daunte Wright.

Students push SMU on response to shooting


(4/21/2021)

by ALEXANDRA RETTER

 

At a demonstration on Monday, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota (SMU) students urged the university to denounce the actions of the police officer, who is an SMU alum, charged in the killing of Daunte Wright. They also called for the university to collaborate with students on creating an inclusive campus community through steps such as developing a diversity and inclusion office. The demonstration followed a statement from the university about the killing of Daunte Wright that some students said did not go far enough to condemn the officer’s actions and inequity overall. 

About 200 students, faculty and staff attended the demonstration that took place amid the ongoing reckoning with racial inequity and killings of people of color by police in the U.S. Demonstrators held signs and chanted sayings such as, “No justice, no peace,” and “We have the power to make change,” Student Senate President-Elect and junior biology major Elijah Williams said. Students demonstrated on a day during which Winona Senior High School students had a walk-out about nationwide racial inequity. There have been other anti-racism demonstrations locally, as well, in recent days. 

The demonstration occurred after the university community received a response to the shooting of Daunte Wright on April 14 from SMU President James Burns. “I write to you with deep sadness and shared pain as our community and all people in the Twin Cities, Minnesota, and the nation try to come to terms with another tragic death. The shooting of Mr. Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center during a stop by a police officer earlier this week hits especially close to home … While it is not possible to respond with a statement for every injustice, we respond to all injustice through our faith and the belief that all people must be afforded equal dignity and all forms of unjust discrimination must be condemned,” Burns wrote. 

“Well, we all kind of felt that we wanted the letter to denounce Kim Potter, mainly because we felt that she did not represent our Lasallian values and Saint Mary’s tradition,” Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) executive member and senior psychology major Denise Quizhpi said. 

Student leaders from on-campus groups including Black Students and Allies (BSA), SAGA, and Merging Intercultural Experiences (MIX) organized the demonstration. They also wrote an impact statement outlining the reasoning behind the demonstration and steps they would like to take with the university.

Recent events such as the killing of Daunte Wright have had a big effect on students of color, Quizhpi said. “And it’s very tiring and stressful and uncomfortable being on campus where an important situation like this is not acknowledged,” she said. 

“I think the main thing that we really want to see the university do right away is having the student voice included in these decisions to make change,” BSA President and senior criminal justice and psychology major Enitan Onayiga said. “And do it in a timely manner … Our main goal is to make sure these changes are started right away.” 

Student leaders called for SMU to denounce Kimberly Potter’s actions in the killing of Daunte Wright. When asked about what the thought was behind not mentioning Potter in the president’s response to the killing of Daunte Wright, Vice President for Marketing and Communication Kelly Shannon said, “The officer was charged with second-degree manslaughter, and it is going to go through a court process. It is that process that we have to respect and have it happen.” Shannon attended the demonstration. 

Asked what she would say to concerned students, Shannon said she would tell them the university condemns hatred, inequity and racism, and can condemn an unjust killing. “Our position is we condemn the killing. That’s our position,” she said.  

Shannon said she was proud and grateful that students spoke up and called for dignity, justice and respect for all, and the university wants those things, as well. “We want to partner with them … So the reaction from Saint Mary’s is, good, let’s continue the conversation. And again, it’s not just continuing the conversation. Let’s move that into, ‘What are action steps that would really be sustainable and matter the most to students?’” she said. The university condemns hatred, racism and injustice, just as students do, she said, and wants to act with students to address them in a Lasallian way, with dignity, respect and justice. 

Students also urged the university to hire a vice president for inclusion and human dignity quickly. They also urged the university to create a diversity and inclusion office and a student-led committee to facilitate discussions between students and administrators regarding the development of a welcoming campus environment. “I think that would be a great way for students to feel accepted,” Williams said. They pressed the university to put microaggression training in place again, as well. They said they peacefully demonstrated and created the movement out of love for their university and a wish for the campus atmosphere to be inclusive for current and future students. “What we’re saying is coming from the bottom of our heart, because we care a lot about the Saint Mary’s community and the university as a whole,” MIX President and junior Spanish and history major Giselle Centeno said. 

In response to the demonstration, Onayiga said administrators approached student leaders to ask for a meeting on Tuesday, April 20.

As Williams looks ahead to the next school year, he said he wants to collaborate with students and administrators on fostering inclusivity. “We all need to come together to find a common ground in which our students of color and members of other marginalized groups feel not only supported, but safe and respected, while on our campus,” he said in an email. 

The number of students and other SMU community members who attended the demonstration was powerful in the interim, Quizhpi said. “What we found very kind of moving today was the amount of staff and faculty that supported us,” she said. Education@winonapost.com

 

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