[UPDATED] Statement by SGA official addresses Black Lives Matter movement

The+statement+included+points+that+were+critical+of+the+university+administration+and+its+response+to+incidents+of+racism+on+campus.

The statement included points that were critical of the university administration and its response to incidents of racism on campus.

Jessica Silverman, deputy campus editor

In a series of emails to student organizations and social media posts on June 4, the Student Government Association, or SGA, released a statement regarding the racial struggles on campus, the protests sparking from the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The statement was written by SGA’s first-ever executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion Sade Adewunmi, who was confirmed to her position during the spring 2020 semester. The open letter, titled “In Pain and Enraged,” condemned the actions of police officers in Floyd’s murder and listed the ways in which the university needs to address systemic racism, including defunding the Northeastern Police Department, or NUPD, and addressing acts of racial discrimination on campus.

“George Floyd may have ignited this movement, but this movement is so much bigger than one man,” wrote Adewunmi, a rising fifth-year criminal justice major. “This is about Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, Jamar Clark, and so many other countless Black people executed at the hands of the police.”

The critique of Northeastern’s inaction and failure to address diversity was posted on SGA’s social media platforms and website and sent to many student organizations, but according to Adewunmi, it was not intended to serve as the association’s official statement on the matter. Rather, it was a way for her to voice her concerns about the university’s handling of recent issues in a way that reflected an outcry from her constituents.

“SGA’s outgoing leadership do not see this as a reflection of the association, but I believe the association is more than 11 people,” Adewunmi said in an interview with The News. “It’s not us 11 people and our beliefs, but rather we are leadership and we should be promoting the beliefs of our students … This statement speaks on the whole student body, and it does not appease to the wants and needs of the cabinet.”

The statement included points that were critical of the university administration and its response to incidents of racism on campus. Adewunmi said this initially prevented the statement from being released by SGA.

“In terms of sharing this statement, it wasn’t roadblocked to the extent that I would have to change my language, [but] I would have to not so much call the university out,” Adewunmi said. “If administration relationships are strained because of this, those relationships were incorrect in the first place.”

SGA Vice President of Student Affairs Erykah Kangbyea confirmed Adewunmi’s claims about the backlash from the cabinet in sharing the message with the student body.

“The hurdles and the bureaucracy and the democratic processes that [Adewunmi] talked about in her [statement] is what prevented her from releasing this letter,” the rising fourth-year political science and sociology major said. “This didn’t come necessarily from the administration, it came from our own cabinet.” 

As Adewunmi calls for the defunding of NUPD, she explains that their services have been used to fight off peaceful protestors rallying in support of Black Lives Matter. Images have emerged on social media of Northeastern Police aiding Boston Police in city protests, and of Northeastern University property being used by the Boston Police Department to prepare for the protests. These include footage of officers practicing swinging their batons and preparing to go into protests with riot gear.

“We refuse to idly sit here and claim that we stand in support of this movement, while we watch our own university militarize its police force and weaponize this push for racial justice as rationale to behave unjustly,” Adewunmi wrote. “How can our university’s president claim to embrace diversity and in the same breath deploy our police department in opposition to peaceful protests?”

Despite the initial challenges, students have since rallied behind Adewunmi’s statement, with the support of more than 55 student organizations, she said. One of these organizations is the Northeastern Interfraternity Council, or IFC, which oversees all Greek life organizations.

“We are writing this statement to hereby endorse and stand behind the words of our peers in the Student Government Association,” IFC wrote in a statement to members. “Northeastern has done little but offer manicured words – effectively contributing nothing of substance to the movement for equality. It is unacceptable for the place with so much influence in our lives as students to offer so little. We do not want Instagram posts or a day off from online class to ‘reflect.’ The time for reflection is long past— now is the time for action.”

Adewunmi said she was shocked at the amount of support her words received from students.

“We have seen an outpour of support and outpour of people who are behind us. I am still going through the emails of the people who believe that this is a statement that not only reflects themselves but reflects the values that they hold,” Adewunmi said.

Adewunmi is continuing to work with student organizations to make their voices heard and to pressure the university to take action. Though her term ends this summer, she plans on working on a plan of action with student groups until she transitions to her new role as SGA vice president of student affairs. Adewunmi has been working with a group of students called the NU Accountability Task Force.

“It’s a very large group of students from a [variety] of places that think that NUPD’s behavior is, in a way, fundamentally racist,” Adewunmi said. “… And if we have students that feel like that, NUPD needs to change.”

Adewunmi said she will continue to fight for change until students feel she has done an adequate job in her role. 

“We need change [so] that people can wake up in six to 12 months and say, ‘Okay, I finally feel like I’m not under attack or under a microscope on this campus,’” Adewunmi said. “That is when I know the sun has set on my term as [executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion]. Once people feel like action and change has happened around this issue, then we can start moving forward.”

Northeastern Media Relations failed to comment on the subject of this article.

Updated at 2:08 pm June 13th to include the new name of student group NU Accountability Task Force and to include links supporting claims by Adewunmi about NUPD