University of Miami Disciplines Student Group Protesting Overtown Project for Writing With Chalk on Sidewalk

Categories: News
UMchalk.jpg
The University of Miami is constructing a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art Life Science and Technology Park in the heart of the historically impoverished Overtown neighborhood near downtown Miami. But the project has been wrought with controversy. Neighborhood activists claim the project, built with public funding because it would create jobs, has not put enough area residents to work.

Liberal-leaning University of Miami group Students Towards a New Democracy (S.T.A.N.D.) has taken up the cause, but UM has allegedly begun disciplinary action against the group after members used chalk to write protest messages on the school's sidewalks.

"As an institution of higher learning, we expect the University of Miami to promote civic engagement, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly; these values are critical for democracy," reads a message posted on the group's Facebook page.

"However, instead of encouraging these ideals on campus and welcoming open dialogue, our university has been suppressing the voices of Overtown leaders, residents, and their supporters. A small group of administrators has made swift and decisive moves to quickly eliminate Overtown's voice on campus. They try to block our freedom of assembly, block student emails addresses, take down innocent flyers, mark related emails as spam, and have tried to criminalize messages written in children's sidewalk chalk. Recently, an Overtown supporter was interrogated by the police, given an official trespassing warning, and banned from visiting campus for two years as a result of his participation in the aforementioned activities."

UMLSTpark.jpg
A rendering of the under-construction Life Science and Technology Park.
​Group members claim other student groups routinely write messages in chalk and that no other group has ever been charged with vandalism for similar actions.

"I've used chalk for four years and never had anyone tell me it was wrong. I have photographic evidence of other students using it," S.T.A.N.D. member Stephanie Sandhu tells the Florida Independent.

The group also claims it has been targeted and censored by the university in the past, though the school has commented only that no student organization has been forced to disband so far this year. The school has a policy of not commenting on individual cases.

In response, the group held a "Stop Censoring Overtown" rally in the middle of campus this afternoon.

UM has faced a fair amount of criticism over the Life Sciences and Technology Park. The school claims that 34 percent of the work force comes from within several zip codes around the project, but critics claim only one of those zip codes actually covers Overtown. Meanwhile, the school has publicized the area's poverty in order to gain public funding (through tax credits and loans) by promising to hire local residents. However, the school has yet to implement a promised job-training program in the area.

Critics also worry that the structure, which will include laboratories and office space, will cause rents to rise in the area, thereby pushing out residents.

Phase one of construction is expected to be completed later this year.

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6 comments
Matthew Earl
Matthew Earl

Way to go University of Miami! You idiots not only step on the poor community but you set yourselves as an example of a racist institution! Keep oppressing the poor some more. It will do you some good to be exposed as a university that suppresses the people's opinions and oppresses poor minority communities. Instead of building the institution in an area like Doral (where there is plenty of space), you choose to build it an oppressed community that will not benefit from this project. I hope you losers have a miserable football season. You deserve it.

Rx727sfl2007
Rx727sfl2007

idiotic post. overtown residents only know how to use crack pipes they would never be capable of even showing up to work on time, the life science builing is near the hospital civic center were it belongs.

Jriley1230
Jriley1230

these kids were badmouthing their school with chalk that their school paid for on sidewalks that their school paid for. if these kids didn't pay to attend this school, maybe they would not be seen as ineffective hypocrites by their fellow students that think independently. these funds in question are federal and state funds, not local funds or assets. they should be protesting the government, not their private university. instead of reading their and overtown's propaganda alone, the members of the community may benefit from paying attention to what administration has said repeatedly regarding these issues. as a student at the university, i am saddened that this type of ignorance and pandering is seen as radical protest. the worst part is that these students are providing false hope to this community. none of them have intentions of doing anything personally (such as establishing their own businesses or non-profits in overtown, or providing any sort of conclusion besides the university paying anyone that cries loud enough). it seems the only thing stand stands for is standing around bickering.

Stephanie_sandhu
Stephanie_sandhu

Hello Jriley1230,My name is Stephanie Sandhu, and I have been a member of STAND since my Freshman year. Through STAND I have worked in Overtown on housing conditions, helped organize multiple health fairs and voter rights/restoration. My sophomore year the residents of Overtown came to me and the members of STAND with an exciting opportunity to partner with our University. They knew that a 8.6 biotechnology park in their neighborhood would face many obstacles when employing local residents. However, they also had solutions! They proposed various ideas, a local hiring process, job training etc. They wanted to develop and outline a process to help this impoverished community. They proposed a community benefits agreement, a legal document used across the country when developers use incentives specifically allocated for low-income areas. Our university refused to commit and instead made vague promises to deliver jobs and it helped them secure a $60 million American Recovery Act Bond, $8.33 million in New Markets Tax Credits and State Enterprise Zone Tax Incentives. Now they are set to receive a $25 million dollar grant from the county, and a $8 million dollar grant from the Overtown CRA (Funded directly by Overtown’s taxes!) All of these sources of funding are only available in impoverished areas. Then over the next few years, I sat in on meetings between our university’s lobbyists and community leaders where they completely backed out of those promises. Sometimes they wouldn’t show up to meetings they planned, and they have canceled over half of the ones they arrange. They laughed in community leaders face when they asked to form a partnership and continued on to hire a construction company based in Fort. Lauderdale instead of employing local residents. Although they claim they hired 34% from Overtown and the surrounding areas they forget to tell you that the surrounding areas covers 11 zip-codes, only one of which is Overtown. Now, residents are already being displaced from their homes, because the redevelopment money that was suppose to go to bring their public housing up to code is being allocated to UM instead. I agree that the government has a large responsibility in ensuring these sources of funding are distributed responsibly and there is accountability. That is why STAND and the resident of Overtown have spent the past three years trying to lobby government officials to support a community benefits agreement. And they have! The Overtown Community Oversight Board passed a resolution supporting a community benefits agreement just this year. However, UM officials know that government can’t force a developer to do anything, especially since the funding is coming from multiple levels of government (federal, state and local). However, with public pressure, support from Overtown residents and students on campus, we can hold our university to a high moral standard. The truth is, what UM officials are doing is perfectly legal; the system is set up for their benefit. But considering this is one of our nation’s poorest communities, we have to ask ourselves, are we really doing enough? As an academic institution we have an opportunity to really make a difference in this area, and a lot of ideas the community is proposing don’t even require money. We have resources, like the Launch Pad, that residents could really benefit from if they had access to. This project is not lead or developed by STAND, it is lead by the residents of Overtown. And I encourage you to come meet the leaders and children of Overtown with us and understand why they are asking UM to form a sustainable partnership with their area. I appreciate your critical thinking, and I am open to further discussion. If you perception of the work we are doing is flawed, it is our fault for not effectively messaging. We spend probably .5% of our time protesting, and the rest holding discussions, researching, holding forums, working in Overtown etc. If you want to meet to discuss ideas I am more than willing. Myself and members of STAND have spent hundreds of hours researching this project and probably spend around 20 hours a week each working on this issue and directly with the residents of Overtown. However, I will be the first to admit, we still struggle to bring that education and full story to the larger campus body! Any help and suggestion would be greatly appreciated. If you want to get together and get coffee let me know! stephanie_sandhu@hotmail.com

umiamik
umiamik

As an Alumni, I remember plenty of protesting from STAND while it was obvious they knew little about the issues they were protesting. "Making a difference" does not equal taking an extreme side to an issue and stand around screaming about it.

K Hanger
K Hanger

Stephanie's work and that of the other members of STAND are appreciated by some of us who work for the university and are concerned about the ways in which freedom of speech has been attacked and dismantled in institutions all over the US. Whether you agree with what they say or not, whether you think they could say it more effectively or don't care what they say, the US Constitution guarantees they have a right to say it within the walls of our most powerful colleges and universities. I say, keep goading. You do work we should ALL be doing.

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