COLUMBUS Ohio (WCMH) — Following the fatal shooting of the unarmed 20 year-old, Donovan Lewis, Ohio State students led protests and called on the university to make a statement about Lewis’ death and a commitment to preventing tragedies.
Despite these demands, student organizers, or as they prefer to be labeled “just students who care,” Devin Smith and Isaac Wilson said the university has been silent on this issue.
“The fact once again, you can be such a big institution and be so important to really, not really, literally the entire city and have nothing to say it’s shocking,” said Smith.
The silence makes students feel unheard, said student Senate Leader Yondris Ferguson.
“It makes us feel as though our time here is useless, it makes us feel as though the university does not value their students,” said Ferguson. “And particularly their Black or brown students who are really feeling the hurt.”
However, a group of faculty members are trying to make a change. Professors from the Center of Ethnic Studies released a statement, not only in support of student and community protests, but demanding the university to pay a bigger role.
“To me, it is not a radical position to say this has got to stop and we are here to support everyone we can in that movement,” said OSU’s Director of the Ethnic Studies Center, Dr. Namiko Kunimoto.
The feeling is echoed by OSU Program Director Of Asian American Studies, Dr. Pranav Jani.
“These efforts joining with what’s happening with students and the community gets the administration, it’s just one part of the picture,” said Jani “But, it gets the administration to say something about Donovan Lewis and to actually then do something about this problem of racism and policing.”
Students rallying for change say the issue can begin to be addressed by adjusting OSU’s ties with the Columbus Division of Police.
“As a lot of Black students have talked about, they don’t feel safe,” said Smith. “Especially off campus there’s a lot of different ways, there’s alternatives to policing and I think they need to be pursued.”
This is another issue the professor agrees needs to be addressed by the university.
“If we have an inclusive idea of safety, shouldn’t it include students for who police don’t only bring safety but partially the threat of violence?” said Dr. Jani.
Smith urges a change from the university who he said preaches safety.
“You have a large majority of the minority part of your students saying they don’t feel safe having this entity around them yet you preach safety.”
However, the issue runs deeps. The student leaders, organizers and the professors say OSU and the community are deeply connected.
“Specifically when you’re talking about Ohio State and you’re talking about Black students at Ohio State, I have repeatedly seen that this is an organic connection as it should be at a state university,” said Dr. Jani. “And this is not something happening outside of us just because it’s not on campus.”
Smith agreed with this statement urging for the university and students to speak up and demand change in times of injustice.
“When things like this are happening, tragedies like this are happening you should have something to say and something to feel,” said Smith.
Kunimoto said she is hopeful their statement will just be the start of support for these students and their demands for change.
“I’m certainly hopeful,” said Kunimoto. “I mean, I want to believe that everyone feels that every body on and off campus has the same right to dignity, has the same right to walk down the street and feel safe and institutional violence should not be supported.”
Wilson said, despite the silence from administrators, the support from the Enthic Studies Center means a lot.
“Just having that support even though this is their job, Ohio State is on their paychecks, but it’s just great that they’re still supporting this cause and there for students, rather just being here for the check,” said Wilson.
While the university hasn’t said anything about Lewis’ death publicly, they did provide a statement to NBC4 supporting faculty, staff and students the freedom to express themselves:
Ohio State supports the right of our students, faculty and staff to peacefully express their views and to speak out about issues that are important to them. Freedom of speech and civic engagement are central to our values as an institution of higher education. The Ohio State University Police Division (OSUPD) is the primary law enforcement agency on all of our campuses. In Columbus, we hire individual Columbus Division of Police (CPD) officers for specific services, largely traffic control on city streets for athletics events. We also have a mutual-aid agreement in place that allows our OSUPD to assist CPD off campus in certain circumstances, such as joint patrols. During joint patrol, OSUPD is able to respond to issues or incidents in the neighborhood where many students live. This allows our officers to connect students to university resources and increases the chance students living off campus will work with OSUPD in a time of need.Ben Johnson OSU’s Senior Director of Media and Public Relations