University of Minnesota Alumni Association


Taking a Stand

Undergraduate Student Body President Jael Kerandi’s impassioned letter led to the U of M limiting ties with the MPD.

U of M Student Association President Jael Kerandi speaks to student demonstrators outside Northrop Auditorium on May 29 to protest the killing of George Floyd.
Photo Credit: Jack Rodgers / Minnesota Daily

In the spring of 2018, Jael Kerandi (B.S.B., ’21), who later would become the U of M’s first Black undergraduate student body president, attended Somali Night, an annual event sponsored by the U of M’s Somali Student Association. The gathering celebrates traditions of the Somali diaspora, from fashion to music to dance.

As she left Northrop Auditorium, Kerandi, then a freshman at the Carlson School of Management, says she was shocked by the large number of police patrolling a family-friendly event. “I remember asking an officer a simple question and being met with such aggression and force,” she says.

The event made headlines and sparked disputes: The police said they were needed on site to break up a large fight and a robbery, and they deployed a chemical irritant in doing so. The Somali Student Association said the police used excessive force and assaulted attendees, including pulling a woman by her hijab.

Although accounts of the event differ, Kerandi says memories of the experience resurfaced for her on the night that George Floyd was killed.

In response, she authored an open letter (excerpts of which are reprinted below) to President Joan Gabel, her administration, and members of the U of M Board of Regents that ultimately led to the University severing a number of ties with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) two days after Floyd died.

Since that time, other community organizations have made similar moves to cut ties with the MPD, including Minneapolis Public Schools, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center, the Minnesota Orchestra, and more.

Kerandi, who was born in Nairobi and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was a toddler, is now a senior majoring in finance and marketing, with a minor in business law.

And while her term as undergraduate student body president has now ended, she remains one of eight student representatives to the U of M’s Board of Regents.

Kerandi hopes the international attention brought to Minnesota by the tragedy of Floyd’s death will result in significant changes. At the University, she’d like to see an increased commitment to more Black mental health counselors to support the specific needs of Black students. She’d also like to see an increased commitment to hiring tenure-track faculty of color and a commitment to curricula that educate students about systems and institutions.

“People should know what redlining is and what it did to our communities ... and how house deeds used to say, ‘whites only,’” she says. “People need to understand that these things existed, and that racism never really went away. It simply evolved.”

In recent months, voices have risen both locally and nationally calling for municipalities and educational institutions to go even further in changing the current police system by either partially or fully defunding departments, reallocating some of that money to other areas. The idea has become a political flash point for many. (The U of M Libraries has curated a number of resources to help people gain more information on this at continuum.umn. edu/2020/06/a-matter-of-facts-defunding-the-police/.)

“I struggle with [the fierce opposition to defunding] because it comes from such a place of privilege,” Kerandi admits. “[White people] have the opportunity to sit there and say, ‘The police have been protecting me, therefore you are removing a resource that protects me.’ Whereas Black people have been saying for years and years and years that we have not been protected by the police.”

Below are excerpts of the letter Kerandi and other signatories sent to the U of M administration.

A Response to the Murder of George Floyd

“This morning we woke up to a graphic video that depicted the violent murder of an unarmed, restrained Black man named George Floyd by Minneapolis police Officers Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao. Chauvin knelt on the neck of Floyd and pressed him into the hot asphalt, forcing Floyd to inhale the fumes from an SUV owned by the Minneapolis Police Department while Thao stood guard and watched. Chauvin continued to apply pressure even as George lay motionless and pleaded in pain, saying ‘Please, please I can’t breathe.’ George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis Police Department. Full stop. Regardless of the reason for his arrest, his death cannot be justified, and those who attempt to do so are part of the problem. … The Minneapolis Police Department has repeatedly demonstrated with their actions that Black bodies are expendable to them. This is a norm that we have been desensitized to due to its frequency.

…A part of the Twin Cities campus is embedded within the confines of Minneapolis and students often are under the jurisdiction of the Minneapolis Police Department, a dubious status for any person of color. MPD has continually shown disregard for the welfare and rights of people of color on our campus. This disregard is especially blatant in interactions that include but are not limited to, the discrimination and racism that was experienced by students during Somali Night in 2018, and generally, the way students of color are treated with mistrust and suspicion while on or around campus.

…We have lost interest in discussion, community conversations, and ‘donut hours.’ We no longer wish to have a meeting or come to an agreement, there is no middle ground. The police are murdering Black men with no meaningful repercussions. This is not a problem of some other place or some other time. This is happening right here in Minneapolis. …[A]s student leaders, we do have a stake in the operations of the University of Minnesota Police Department. Therefore, we clearly and without hesitation DEMAND that the University of Minnesota Police Department ceases any partnerships with the Minneapolis Police Department immediately. This is inclusive of any previous contracts, events, security operations, and any additional relations that were inclusive of the Minneapolis Police Department, barring any reporting structures.

As a land-grant institution, statements professing appreciation of diversity and inclusion are empty and worthless if they are not backed up by action. A man was murdered. It is our job as an institution to exert whatever pressure we can to keep our students safe and demand justice in our city and state.”

With deep loss, disgust, and exhaustion.

Jael Kerandi

A Black woman

Undergraduate Student Body President

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