President Diacon addresses students at ‘March for Unity,’ agrees to meet demands


Kent State President Todd Diacon talks and walks with Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity members during a protest on campus Mon., Sept. 14, 2020.

Chris Ramos Assigning editor

Camera surveillance installation, an established rock policy and a review of the student code of conduct were the main talking points by university administrators on Monday. 

Organized by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and Black United Students, the “March for Unity” demonstration included President Todd Diacon, giving students a chance to hear what actions the university will take in response to hate messages painted on the rock. 

Last week BUS put forth demands to the university which BUS president Tayjua Hines were derived from student concerns. 

“Over the summer with the current climate of Black people in general and the pandemic, we put together a lot of town halls and we also sat in a lot of town halls that the university put on,” Hines said. “We also had conversations with Black students and our first mass meeting had to be restructured to hear the concerns of students on campus.” 

After gathering those student concerns, the BUS executive board formulated them into seven demands which include mandatory bias training and education along with LGTBQ+ training, FLASH alerts notifying students of discriminatory incidents and the addition of an anti-hate clause to the student code of conduct. The full list of demands can be found here. 

Several faculty members were cited by Hines as being fundamental in supporting BUS and their demands. 

“BUS has two advisers this year, Professor [Mwatabu] Okantah and Dr. [Charmaine] Crawford, she’s going on her second year here, she’s new to the university,” Hines said. “And also Dr. Eboni Pringle, Dr. [Amoaba] Gooden and Dr. [Lamar] Hylton. All have been really helpful with pushing the demands and also helping us structure everything for our Black students.” 

At 1:30 p.m., masked demonstrators gathered on the K, as a loud whistle directed everyone’s attention to members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. Standing on the student center lawn and scanning their eyes over the crowd, the members emphasized the importance of the demonstration and the need for action. Diacon was invited to speak after the introduction. 

“I began to wonder about how are we going to square our core values with this reality, this painful reality, and I sort of got lost,” Diacon told demonstrators. “But then the leadership, Tayjua Hines and the leadership of Black United Students and the membership of Black United Students provided us with the light.” 

Diacon thanked BUS for putting forth actionable ideas that would make the university a welcoming place beyond stating that message on slogans and billboards. 

There was a large turnout for the march, much like the two previous demonstrations which Hines was grateful for. 

“I didn’t go for the entire part on Thursday, I didn’t start at the K, I started at Oscar Ritchie because I work at Oscar Ritchie so I just waited for all of the students to come,” Hines said. “But as I saw Gaby, our Political Affairs and Grievances chair, just leading all of the students down the esplanade, I was just so excited. Seeing change is exciting” 

This time, however, the robust procession did not go to Oscar Ritchie Hall but instead marched up to the Kent State Police Department. Along the way, chants such as “Say her name, Breonna Taylor”, “Say her name, Sandra Bland, “Say his name, George Floyd”, “Say his name, Tamir Rice” and “No justice, no peace, no racist police” ensued. 

At the entrance of the Stockdale building stood Kent State Police Chief Dean Tondiglia and the City of Kent Police Chief Nicholas Shearer who told students  they communicate to one another almost daily about issues of hate and what they can do to ensure the safety of the community. 

Following this exchange, the demonstrators made their way down to the rock. Members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity were first to arrive and as they waited for everyone else, they stood side by side and raised their clenched fists. As cars passed by on Main Street, drivers pressed down on their horns to show support. However, the passenger of one vehicle screamed out the window “All lives matter b–ches!”. 

The Alpha Phi Alpha members paid no attention to the act. 

It was at the rock, the last leg of the march, in which concrete answers were sought after by students. Members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity facilitated an open forum discussion with Diacon, Shearer, and Dr. Lamar Hylton, the vice president for Student Affairs. 

Integrated Greek Council Vice President Patrick Ferguson handled most of the dialogue. 

Shearer was called upon to speak again to students. Since the rock is intended to be painted on, Shearer said the department can’t consider anything on it graffiti. 

“But one of the things that we experience a lot as a city department is graffiti in our downtown area. There have been different times throughout history where there have been messages of hate,” Shearer said. “One of things we do is that we take that very seriously, we dedicate undercover manpower very frequently to our downtown areas to watch for any of that graffiti taking place.” 

One of the questions Shearer was asked was whether or not there is active training for the Kent Police force in how to approach Black people in today’s environment. 

“Our department actively trains annually in several different topics that relate to this,” Shearer said. “We have annual training on community relations, implicit bias, cultural diversity, bias based policing and deescalation.” 

An area of improvement Shearer acknowledged was engaging student organizations and connecting with students on a personal level. 

Following Shearer was Diacon who told students that the university had created action steps in response to the demands put forth by BUS. The two action steps Diacon particularly focused on was the installation of security cameras by the end of the week and eventually the installation of lighting around the rock. 

“When we do this security review, we won’t just do it with people like me walking around,” Diacon said. “It’ll be student leaders, BUS leaders to help us understand what security looks like and how we can improve that.” 

Pressed by Ferguson and students, Diacon agreed to compile the university’s action steps into a mass email sent to students by the end of the day. 

In addition to security measures to the rock, Hylton concluded the march by stating that the university is establishing a rock policy and will explore possibilities in the student code of conduct. 

“We need to not only talk about what we’re doing with the rock, but are there ways we can make policy perspectives separate and apart from the law, as a university,” Hylton said. “To hold people accountable for hateful acts that happen on our campus.” 

As students either started to head home or to talk with officials remaining in the area, Ferguson reflected on the discussions that took place. 

“I would say overall, I thought that they were just really transparent. I just appreciate them being receptive to answering the questions,” Ferguson said. “I would say the answers themselves, I wanted them to be a bit more detailed and direct.” 

Talking to the administration in the past as a former BUS president, Ferguson said it was hard to get definitive answers about issues because either they were caught off guard or were in the process of developing solutions but couldn’t communicate it. And although the process can be strenuous, the recent activism has shown Ferguson that a loud collective can’t be ignored. 

“We really don’t get tired of marching and fighting. We don’t get tired of stating our basic human rights when it comes to our safety,” Ferguson said. “The energy has just been so consistent and I don’t see this dying down as far as the consistency with mobilizing like this.” 

Contact Chris Ramos at [email protected].