UMB Community Reacts To Professor’s Arrest

UMB Community Reacts To Professors Arrest

Gin Dumcius

UMass Boston community expressed outrage and fear at a press conference following the arrest of an Africana Studies professor earlier that afternoon. The local media descended onto the scene as well, and aired coverage of the incident and press conference later that night.

Professor Anthony Van Der Meer, the professor who was arrested and arraigned a few hours before in a Dorchester courtroom, sat at a table in the Wheatley Student Lounge with Africana Studies Associate Professors Robert Johnson and Jemadari Kamara, as students and administrators alike spoke out in support and voiced concern over the present climate at UMass Boston.

Speaking for the first time since the incident, Van Der Meer said he felt “humiliated,” “ashamed,” and “embarrassed” at the way he was treated by campus police. “I thought they mistook me for an Iraqi,” he said.

In the early afternoon of Thursday, April 3, Van Der Meer had gotten into a yelling match with an Army National Guard recruiter who made a passing comment to the professor seconds before. Campus police quickly intervened. The recruiter was able to walk away, while Van Der Meer became involved in an quarrel with the police, which led to him being thrown down onto the floor, causing a lens to come out of his glasses and his jacket to be ripped as he struggled. He pled not guilty in court, with Associate Professor Johnson acting as his legal counsel.

Many students were there at the courthouse to support him, and many of those same students showed up at the press conference hours later.

Gulet Shirdon, a student and member of the Black Student Center, praised the professor, as many at the press conference did, on his ability to help students empower themselves. He went to say, “I don’t feel safe on this campus at this moment,” adding that he wasn’t exaggerating.

Another student, also a member of the Black Student Center, felt that it was an honor to know that the professor cared more about the world outside the classroom rather than that inside it, encouraging supporters to stay peaceful at all times, no matter how enraged they became at the circumstances.

Tony Naro, one of the students involved in the incident, stated, “Nobody should have gotten arrested. If anybody should have been, it should have been the guardsmen,” meaning the army recruiters.

Many school administrators came to the press conference as well, including Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance David MacKenzie, Dean of Students Angeline Ellison, Associate Provost Peter Langer, and UMass Boston Chancellor Jo Ann Gora.

“It’s deplorable that a faculty member has been arrested,” Gora said, adding, “I am very sad that this was your experience on campus,” when Van Der Meer said he was hurt spiritually and emotionally. Gora later said that the school will offer counseling services to help students deal with the incident, and Dean Ellison mentioned a forum the following Monday at noon in the Ryan Lounge to discuss the issue in front of a larger audience.

Dean Ellison expressed concerns on how the “unfortunate incident” is affecting the community, saying that there will be an investigation into what took place.

“Everybody here is horrified,” said Student Trustee Heather Dawood.

Maria Placensia, a member and coordinator of Casa Latina, said the minute she heard about it, it upset her that it happened to a professor, and assured everyone that Casa Latina was behind him. “I hope we can deal with the issue head on,” she said.

The press conference was organized by Fritz Hyppolite, a student senator and member of the Black Student Center. Channels 4,5, and 7 were there to cover it, and an article on the incident appeared in The Boston Globe the next day.