They want to encourage dissent and activism on campus
Two University of Minnesota graduate students arrested and jailed earlier this year for a protest on campus are facing additional sanctions. Rahsaan Mahadeo and David Melendez are two of 13 students arrested, jailed and sanctioned by the school’s Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity after they took part in a protest at Morrill Hall in February.
They were sanctioned for disorderly conduct and refusal to identify and comply. The two students have since appealed the decision.
Mahadeo and Melendez both told the MSR during a recent interview on campus that they believe school officials are pushing this because they are students of color.
“Disruption” is not fully defined in the Student Conduct Code, said Melendez. “What constitutes a disruption? It never got resolved. That question is still up in the air… The question is, how did we refuse to comply when we were very compliant [when arrested]?”
“If any violence was committed, it was against us,” added Mahadeo, “physical violence as well as symbolic violence — intimidation. We are the ones with scars on our wrists from the handcuffs. That’s the physical violence we endured.”
The 13 students who were arrested all got warning letters from the University’s Student Conduct Office. Only Mahadeo, Melendez and Jesus Estrada-Perez, who tragically passed away in August, chose to appeal the charges. Their attorney at the time wrote to officials, including University President Eric Kaler, to “investigate the decision” against all 13 student protesters and drop all charges, noted Mahadeo.
The MSR contacted the University for clarification on “disruption” as used in their Student Conduct Code. A school spokesman said in an email, “We are unable to comment on the case, as disciplinary matters are considered private.”
“There is a climate of fear” among school officials when it comes to campus protests, stated Melendez. He and Mahadeo are members of Whose Diversity?, a group that has been outspoken in the past school year about how students of color are treated at the school.
“The fact that we are being put on trial…why they would choose to bring charges against students who are fighting on behalf of marginalized students on issues of equity and justice is really unfathomable. To think that they would prefer to bring charges against student activists for positive transformative change on this campus,” said Mahadeo.
The February Morrill Hall protest is “a legacy” of student protests on campus over the years, said Melendez. “I feel the campus community” should be able to speak out in protest on campus without reprisals, he said.
Both Mahadeo and Melendez have retained a new attorney to help them in their fight against the arrest charges in Hennepin County District Court, where it was referred by the Student Conduct office.
“We have counsel, and we are excited about that. Our expectation is that the charges will be dropped,” said Mahadeo. “This case is much bigger than two students trying to get [their] records cleared. The broader implications are the importance of appreciating and encouraging healthy dissent on campus, and activism.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.