“Justice for Jordan” rally turns into a divided coalition
“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! This toxic culture’s got to go!”
“When I say seven, you say nine!”
“Justice for Jordan!”
Vehement shouts and demands such as these echoed through the University of Maryland, College Park, in a gathering of over a few hundred students, alumni and allies Thursday afternoon in front of the McKeldin Library and the Main Administration Building.
The congregation came together for the “Justice for Jordan” rally in support of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who passed away June 13 after suffering from heatstroke at a May 29 offseason workout.
The fallout from the 19-year-old’s death has resulted into two months-long investigations into the medical practices of the training staff and the culture of the Maryland football program, the Wednesday firing of head football coach DJ Durkin and the Thursday resignation of James T. Brady, the chairman of the 17-member board of regents that assumed control of the two investigations, after the rally concluded.
The rally was announced Tuesday after the board of regents earlier in the day recommended the university retain Durkin, who was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 11. Initially, the main goal of the rally was to convince University President Wallace D. Loh, who reportedly wanted to part ways with the 40-year-old coach but risked losing his job, to fire Durkin.
Loh subsequently announced his retirement in June following the current academic year.
But after Loh reconsidered his decision to accept the board’s recommendations and fired Durkin Wednesday night, the focus of the rally shifted to supporting student-athletes.
“Personally, I feel super emotional seeing students come together for another student, for a cause that is meant to help students,” said Susana Rodriguez-Alfaro, a junior government and politics major. “That’s honestly, like, the greatest thing that I feel can happen on a college campus.”
Said Jessica Shotwell, a first-year doctoral sociology student: “I think that the next step is accountability by tangible means. We saw the reactionary removal of coach Durkin, and it doesn’t have to end there. We need to address the toxic culture, and we need to address how the board of regents was able to make such a decision that the president had to fall back on.”
After the diverse coalition - including the university’s Student Government Association, the university chapter of the NAACP, the UMD College Democrats and the University of Maryland College Republicans - marched from the main doors of McKeldin Library to the front steps of the Main Administration Building, multiple individuals, both students and faculty, addressed the emotional crowd that stood on sidewalks and the nearby roadway.
The list of speakers included various members of the SGA; Dr. Stephen Thomas, a professor at the School of Public Health in which McNair was enrolled; and Jasmine Washington, the junior president of the college’s NAACP chapter.
Despite the SGA’s message of widespread unification through the attendance of Saturday’s football game against Michigan State and for the rest of the season, several protestors vocalized their belief that boycotting athletic events was the optimal method of making an effective difference.
“He got killed, he got murdered by the University of Maryland athletic program!” yelled Homa Hajarian, a fifth-year senior anthropology and agriculture double major. “We should boycott it, goddammit! We should not go the games!”
Shivam Shukla, a sophomore computer science major, appreciated the SGA’s adamant efforts to merge the student body into a single tenacious force, but thought they were in need of more clear-cut objectives.
“I support the rally to some extent,” Shukla said. “I like how the student body is coming together and demanding justice, but the way that they’re going about it isn’t the proper way. We should call for the resignation of the entire board of regents, and the athletic director should resign as well, not just Loh and the coach.”
Jonathan Allen, senior president of the SGA, had intended to discuss the association’s imminent actions before the rally concluded prematurely – demanding for the firing of chairman Brady and proposing that the mandatory athletic fee be sliced by 75 percent as a method of decreasing the funding that’s trickling into the department as a whole.
“You have to hit them in the pocket where it hurts in order to have serious action and response and change,” Allen said. “Students mandatorily are forced to pay 12 million dollars in fees to the athletic department. We proposed to cut that fee because students have been telling me since the summer, ‘How could I be mandatorily forced to financially support an athletic department that doesn’t share the values that I do?’”
Rahila Olanrewaju, junior vice president of academic affairs, echoed virtually all of Allen’s sentiments while highlighting her pride in her fellow students for their passion and desire to raise their voices persistently against a perceived injustice amid their campus.
“It’s been a very stressful couple of days within executive leadership and throughout the whole student government association,” Olanrewaju said. “I think what we were hoping for in today’s rally was to have a unified front, and it was a little disappointing when we saw division start to occur. But, honestly, I’m proud to see so many students involved in the administrative process, and I’m proud to see so many students exercising their power on this campus.”
Allen recognized there is still a great deal of work that has to be completed within this significant movement, and he expressed his eagerness to collaborate with student leaders on the opposite side of the debate in the upcoming future.
“Going forward, I’ll be glad to meet with any student leaders who would like to speak about their suggestions and concerns,” Allen said. “I’m not a part of every community on campus, and I won’t pretend to be. To able to best represent the interests of the student body, it’s important to hear those voices, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do and will continue trying to do.”