University of Minnesota’s Jael Kerandi Is Already Making Change | #students | #parents

When Jael Kerandi started as a business student at the University of Minnesota, she brought her father’s hopes with her. Originally born in Nairobi, Kenya, Kerandi moved to the United States when she was about 18 months old because her father wanted to give her and her siblings the opportunity to get an education they might not have received in their birth country.

Now, as a 21-year-old rising senior, Kerandi has become an integral part of the university’s story.

The University of Minnesota is a public university partially located in the city of Minneapolis, the same city where George Floyd was killed by police officers this past Memorial Day. The day after, Kerandi started seeing the video of Floyd’s death all over her social media. At the time, Kerandi was the student body president for all undergraduates—the first Black student to hold the position—and she knew she had to do something. “I knew our administration could no longer ignore what was going on because this was happening 15 to 20 minutes from our campus,” she told ELLE.com. “We did not need to wait for this to blow over, wait for [when] things are calm, or wait to see what our peers are doing. I wanted our university to make a statement and to make it quickly.”

For her, one of the necessary changes was obvious—ask the university to cut ties with the Minneapolis Police Department, the same department that was responsible for Floyd’s death. (Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board have also ended relationships with the MPD.) Between breaks in her day as a Microsoft intern, Kerandi sat on her laptop typing out a letter to school officials. In the letter, she detailed the department’s racist history and wrote, “The police are murdering black men with no meaningful repercussions. This is not a problem of some other place or some other time,” before demanding that the university’s own police department cease partnerships with the MPD immediately. After bringing the letter to her executive board for approval, she sent it out and asked for a reply within 24 hours. She signed it, “With deep loss, disgust, and exhaustion, Jael Kerandi[;] A black woman.”

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The letter ended up getting more than 2,000 signatures in under 24 hours. The next day, the university’s president responded, announcing that the school would no longer contract with the MPD for large events or specialized services.

It wasn’t Kerandi’s full ask, but it was a start. Below, she speaks about what comes next and why this fight is dedicated to the mothers of the movement.

How did it feel waiting for a response from the administration?

At no point did I necessarily feel fearful writing the letter. It was time that we took a stand and said something that told students we value Black lives. I definitely got worried after. I did trust the leadership of President Gabel, but I knew at the end of the day, President Gabel wasn’t the single person that was going to be consulted in the decision.

Throughout that day, it was terrifying because you’re still dealing with the trauma of what you saw and you still have to process. I was dealing with that while also wondering what response are we going to get, and how do I make sure no matter the outcome that I still continue to push and fight for Black students on this campus? No matter what the outcome was, that was the starting point to me. I think [cutting ties is] the bare minimum that should have been done.

What do you think comes next? What other changes do you want to see?

I think we have to examine, understand, and seek action in regards to our own independent police department on campus. We have to see how we support Black students and the trauma that they experience. The other thing is funding and resources—how we fund diversity and inclusion programs, how we fund scholarships for Black and brown students. What are we doing to reach back farther? What are we doing to get into middle schools and elementary schools? Increase faculty who are on tenure track who are Black, who are brown, in all areas of campus. I have yet to have a Black faculty member teach any of my business courses.

What we have to realize is racism is systemic. It’s rooted in how these systems operate and to some extent you have to re-imagine how you do education and re-imagine society to really see some of this lasting change.

What advice do you have for students, or even alumni, who are hoping to make lasting change at their institutions?

If it’s a matter of severing ties with the police or getting police off campus, that’s one initiative. But I think it’s important to talk with the people who have done this work and this research. There’s so much literature, education papers, media, books about these very experiences. Use that to really back what we’re asking for. Listen to your students who are Black and brown, who are telling you their experience. Then you use the education to create change.

I think people need to understand this is not an adversarial act. Anything that you ask for, you are merely holding your institutions accountable to the promises that they’ve already given you. Institutions have statements of diversity and inclusion in regards to racial discrimination, racial injustice. Those statements already exist. The university has already told you that those values are held. This is a matter of holding them accountable. The administration needs to understand that students should be your biggest stakeholder as tuition-paying individuals.

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After you got the university’s decision, you wrote, “This is for the mothers of George Floyd, Jamarr Clark [sic], Philando Castile, and many others.” Why did you decide to dedicate this to them?

When you see George Floyd on the ground and he called out to his mother, that moment, I don’t know, it really struck me. Then now you see the mother of Trayvon Martin running for office.

It really warmed me to be able to say this is also for you all because of the unnecessary mourning that you’ve had to go through. It was not supposed to happen—and your son was taken from you. They’re constantly going through the grieving process over and over and over and over again. I wanted those mothers to know that somebody saw them and heard them and was going to make sure that it didn’t happen to another mother.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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