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Demanding justice: USF community, leaders react

On Saturday, hundreds of people gathered at the intersection of 56th Street and Fowler Avenue to condemn the killing of George Floyd.

As hundreds of protests broke out across the country over the killing of George Floyd on May 25, members of the USF community used their platforms to shed light on the issue and demand justice.

Over the weekend, students joined protests around the Tampa Bay area against police brutality while demanding justice for Floyd’s death.

From participating in protests across the city to creating her own movement, Student Government Senate President Alliyah Edwards is constantly fighting for justice and making sure her voice is heard.

Edwards said what motivated her to protest was to speak up about the injustices surrounding police brutality and racial inequality.

“This is a fight that at least I, as an African American woman, have been fighting for a very long time and I think it took George Floyd’s death to really let people see that it’s more than just race in this country, it is police brutality, it is the system that oppressed us,” Edwards said. 

As Senate President, Edwards said it’s her duty to speak up for the student body. 

“I want my USF students to know that I stand with them and I want my community out fighting with us because I can’t say I’m an elected representative and I care about students if I am not out here fighting for what they feel is justice and for what they view as right, so it is my job to speak up for them.”

The injustice over racial inequality is one of the things that motivated Edwards to create her own march, “We Rise Up.”

“My movement is a positive movement, one that’s going to enact change,” Edwards said in a video on Instagram. “This is a movement that is going to look further than our oppressors themselves, but the systems that allow them to oppress us. 

“Look at everything that systematically allows these things to happen to us, that’s the root of the problem. Once we change those systems and rewrite them, people have no other choice but to conform and educate themselves on what is right.” 

On social media, the movement gained more than 200 followers in less than three days since the account was created. 

Besides Edwards, other students also decided to raise their voices and fight for justice during protests over the weekend around the Tampa Bay area.

Tampa student Rafael Carrion highlighted the importance of coming together and showing support to such movements.

“I came here to support the black community and help them through the injustice that they are experiencing, trying to right a wrong, improve a society for everyone,” Carrion said. “It’s not just unfair to them this stuff spreads and expands.”

Rebecca Koch, a junior majoring in psychology, attended the protests in downtown Tampa and at the intersection of 56th Street and Fowler Avenue on Saturday. 

For Koch, change begins with holding people accountable as well as speaking up for such issues.

“People shouldn’t have to be protesting in 2020 to live and not be afraid,” Koch said. “It’s important for people to recognize their privilege and understand what’s going on around them, even if you don’t think you’re a political person, it’s important to understand what’s going on in the world around you and speak out for what you believe in and what you think is right.”

USF administration also spoke about the issues surrounding Floyd’s death.

In a universitywide communication sent Saturday afternoon, USF President Steven Currall said how the recent deaths of two black men, George Floyd in Minneapolis and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, should encourage students to “pause and think about how racism impacts all of our lives.”

“I believe I speak for the entire University of South Florida community when I express our deep sadness over recent events in Minneapolis and around the country,” Currall said in the communication.

“Although neither of those individuals were affiliated with the University of South Florida, events such as this have a powerful impact on people of every background and in every community.”

Dean of Students Danielle McDonald highlighted the importance of speaking up in situations of injustice and how “our calls for social justice can never be silenced.”

“The demonstrations taking place across the country to protest the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis call for our community to state loud and clear that we expect justice for all,” McDonald said in the email. 

“While we may be feeling isolated during this pandemic, we are not alone.  And, when we return to something approaching ‘normal,’ we will not tolerate a social norm in which police brutality is ever tolerated.”

Both Currall and McDonald noted some of the resources available for students, faculty and staff through the university’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equal Opportunity, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the USF Counseling Center.

As more protests unfold around the country, Edwards encouraged students to raise their voices and continue to fight for justice.

“I want more people to come out and protest regardless of what they look like, you have to look past race, you have to look at the systematic oppression that has allowed communities that are different to suffer in this country that’s supposed to be free,” Edwards said.

“I want people to know that we were fighting for everyone out here. It’s not for only one group of people, but it’s for everyone to be heard and understood. I want people to come out with their opinions, with their concerns and stand up for what is right.”