Kent State President Todd Diacon rests his hand on a railing while former Black United Students president Patrick Ferguson speaks to students and faculty gathered in Risman Plaza on Monday. (Michael Indriolo/The Portager)
Kent State will put cameras, lights around Rock, but can’t take disciplinary action
President Todd Diacon joined students in an afternoon march responding to racist messages painted on the Rock on campus.
After pressure from protesters last week, Kent State President Todd Diacon joined a march against racism Monday and said the university will install security cameras and permanent lights around the Rock following several episodes of people painting racist messages.
But the university won’t be able to take disciplinary action against those who write hateful messages on it because there are no official policies related to painting the rock, he said.
Diacon’s commitments came after several days of protests on campus after someone wrote “White Lives Matter” and “Blacks have no home here” over top of Black Lives Matter messages. Diacon had been criticized for not attending earlier protests and finally joined in Monday’s march from Risman Plaza to the Rock, led by Kent State’s Alpha Phi Alpha chapter and Black United Students.
Kent State administration plans to implement policies about painting the Rock in its student code of conduct so it can punish students who write hateful messages on it in the future, Diacon said.
Because the Rock is meant to be painted, the university and city police cannot press criminal charges.
Diacon addressed a group of a few hundred students and some faculty at The K in Risman Plaza, thanking Alpha Phi Alpha and BUS for inviting him and affirming “publicly and very enthusiastically that Black lives matter.”
Kent State Alpha Phi Alpha chapter president Delane Streeter said his fraternity, the first ever established for Black men, planned the march to protest racial inequality on campus that compounds beyond just the Rock. He said, as a Black student, he doesn’t feel safe at Kent State.
“It’s only messages that have been left on, you know, the Rock, but it’s only a matter of time before it could escalate to acts of violence,” he said “The African American community here, we’re angry, we’re upset, but we’re ready to be progressive and find a solution to this problem. It’s a problem that we’ve been faced with for centuries, and it’s our time to be at the forefront and fight this fight.”
Protesters marched past the university’s police station, and ended at the Rock, where a roster of speakers began with BUS president Tayjua Hines calling for police transparency.
Kent City Police Chief Nick Shearer took the floor to speak about the department’s annual community relations and implicit bias training. He said he’d like to get to know Black student organizations better.
“I don’t want to be a guy standing here in a uniform,” he said. “I want to be Nick.”
Diacon then stepped up to speak about the university’s response to a list of demands BUS posted last week, and the university sent an email about it later on Monday. The university plans to conduct a security review alongside students to determine how it can make the campus safer.
“I have taught and studied the long history of racism, but we also want to make sure that all of our newly hired faculty and staff understand that, so we’ll engage in that kind of instruction as well,” Diacon said.
But some Black students still voiced concerns about how the university and local police plan to dismantle systemic racism in the community. One student said her parents sent her to Kent State to be safe, but they’re worried about her now.
Another asked Shearer what he’s supposed to do about the fear he feels, as a Black man, when police pull him over at night.
Shearer said he’d already addressed the question when he outlined the department’s annual training and its efforts to devote more resources to community engagement.