Students rally to demand answers

Monday at noon students gathered near the Orange Room for a rally organizers called the “State & Fate of FAMU.”

The protest challenged Florida A&M University’s administration, particularly Interim President Castell Bryant, to give students answers about issues recently spotlighted in the media.

Kyle Washington, a sophomore physical education student from Tallahassee who planned the event, gave a detailed speech. He voiced his disappointment with many issues at FAMU, including financial aid problems, on-campus safety, lack of summer school classes, the recent preliminary audit deficit and the engineering school’s change of financial power.

“We as Rattlers have become exactly what they have expected,” Washington said. “Students must shape the fate and state of FAMU. Today is the day we will ask questions, and this week is the week we will get answers.”

He pleaded with students to write down and submit into a box any questions they had concerning the school. Rally supporters passed out slips of paper and pencils.

The questions were to be typed and submitted to Bryant. Washington requested a response from Bryant by Friday at 2 p.m.

Miesha Williams, a senior economics student from Tallahassee, said Bryant must respond to the questions in person.

“If she doesn’t respond to us,” Williams said, “we will have sit-ins in her, Gov. Charlie Crist’s, and (Provost Debra Austin’s) office.”

The Student Government Association supported students’ rights to protest, but representatives said they wanted the matter to be resolved in a respectful way on the students’ part.

Student Body President Phillip Agnew and vice-president Monique Gillum attended the protest along with several other SGA members. Agnew left class early to address students.

He acknowledged some of the university’s highlighted “political failures” and financial struggles. But he ensured students FAMU is not the only school with problems.

“Four hundred thousand dollars was stolen from FSU in the financial aid department,” Agnew said. “We don’t have any financial problems different from any other university. Florida A&M University is not the worst school in the state.”

Students inquired about the questionable accreditation of the College of Pharmacy. Agnew responded that SGA could produce documents that prove steps are being taken to ensure the college’s accreditation.

“All of your questions are not going to get answered because the administrators don’t know all the answers,” Agnew said.

Agnew, who is also a Board of Trustees member, said he wanted students to know he was not speaking as an administrator, but as a fellow student with the same problems and concerns. He said his financial aid information gets lost every year and he knows the hardships the department can cause. He advised students to make copies of everything.

Several employees in Lee Hall were seen watching the protest through their office windows. Washington urged the staff to be a part of the action. None came out. Henry L. Kirby, associate vice president and dean of student affairs at FAMU, was one of the few faculty members who attended the rally. “As long as students comply with the University’s procedure and policies, which they have, they are exercising their right,” Kirby said.

According to the Freedom of Assembly-Demonstration Policy found in the 2006-2007 Fang Student Handbook, students or other University members are free to assemble as long as they do not disrupt the operation of the University or interfere with the rights of students or other members of the University community.

Washington said he took action because he loves FAMU, but feels the administration is segregating itself from the students. He said he had to do something when his mother, a FAMU employee, recently asked him if he wanted to continue his education here.

When people ask, ‘What’s going on at FAMU?’ we want to say, ‘It’s been taken care of.’ ” Washington said. “We can only say what we think and what we see on the news. We want someone to come down here and say, ‘Everything is going to be alright.’ “