Why some UMass Boston students and staff are protesting the chancellor’s inauguration

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A demonstration was planned to coincide with the inauguration of UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco Friday morning.

A group of students and staff at the University of Massachusetts Boston were planning to demonstrate Friday morning during the inauguration of the school’s new chancellor. 

Marcelo Suárez-Orozco.
– University of Massachusetts

A “unified coalition” was scheduled to gather at 10:30 a.m. outside the Clark Athletic Center on the UMass Boston Campus to object to the inauguration of Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, according to a release by the group. Friday’s ceremony is the culmination of multiple inaugural events this week. It was set to begin at 11 a.m. 

The coalition claims Suárez-Orozco is unable to acknowledge the demands posed by different student and faculty organizations. 

“Friday’s action is centered around calling for accountability, transparency and the immediate end to the university’s attempts at dismantling the power of its community’s initiatives,” the group said in a statement. 

The protest comes about two weeks after three Africana Studies faculty filed complaints with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. They alleged that UMass Boston leadership has been hostile towards their department, exhibited racial bias, and intimidated and retaliated against those who drew attention to structural racism there, GBH reported

“Over the past few years, both student and faculty groups have been subjected to discrimination, deprived of respect and silenced during times of crisis. The ongoing assault against the Africana Studies Department, an invaluable pillar of UMass Boston’s liberal arts college, has revealed the administration’s true colors and represents a tipping point in the university’s consistent, years-long repression of community voices,” the group said in a statement. 

The coalition planning the protest listed five formal demands:

  • Accountability of the university to its commitment to “become anti-racist and health-promoting.”
  • Transparency about “all restrictions placed on free speech on campus.”
  • A total divestment of university funding from “racist entities, and those engaging in war crimes.”
  • Recognition of “workers’ right to make their own fair, just and equitable contracts.” 
  • A formal meeting with Suárez-Orozco by May 1.

Student organizers staged a demonstration in late October in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. At that event, they called for the school to publicly label the situation in Gaza as a genocide and get rid of any partnerships or products that support the Israeli military, according to The Mass Media, a student newspaper. 

Suárez-Orozco assumed the role of chancellor back in August 2020 after leaving a position at the University of California, Los Angeles. An inaugural celebration was impossible during the height of the pandemic, and he decided to postpone any inaugural events to coincide with the completion of major construction projects, he recently told The Boston Globe.

Suárez-Orozco is an immigrant from Argentina who attended the public university system in California before teaching anthropology at Harvard and New York University. He said that he was drawn to the position because of the potential to elevate another public university and empower students to stay in Boston, thus improving the city. 

Suárez-Orozco said that he believes UMass Boston’s diverse student body can be a powerful partner for local employers.

“They understand that the face of the country is changing,” he told the Globe. “So they want talent. They want diversity. They got the memo. They understand that this is the future of the country and our city. This is not your grandfather’s Boston.”

The coalition planning the protest also highlighted the school’s “richly diverse community,” saying that “the actions of the university must reflect this reality.”

“Students and faculty deserve to have their voices heard, their requests addressed, and their passions embedded into every corner of UMass Boston’s reality,” the group said. “By joining together… the university will be faced with a physical reminder of its community’s spirit of resistance.”

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