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OPINION: AASA and COBA rightfully call for the resignation of Maribel Alvarez from the University of Arizona

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Ben Tisdale | The Daily Wildcat

A protester holds a sign at the Decriminalize Black Bodies march and protest on Friday, Oct. 14, at the University of Arizona. The protest was run by the Coalition of Black Students and Allies.

“I am the people. My struggle is yours, your struggle will always be mine. They will never not intersect,” Kai Leigh Harriott declared on Oct.14 at a campus-wide protest at the University of Arizona. 

The Coalition of Black Students and Allies (COBA) and the African American Student Affairs (AASA) organized the protest to oppose the abuse of black and marginalized students at the hands of UA administrators. 

Harriott, a Black, queer and disabled student, said she experienced the first-hand effects of this abuse by several administrators at the UA, but most notably by the Interim Associate Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Maribel Alvarez. Alvarez’s own title signifies that she is presumed to be someone that listens to those who are marginalized and oppressed by institutions. Yet, we have seen how people like Alvarez use their positions to enforce persecution against Black students.  

Beginning on Aug. 31, a series of negative interactions between Harriott and Alvarez occurred that subsequently caused Harriott to attempt to file a complaint against Alvarez to the UA Office of Institutional Equity. Harriott was informed that her complaint would not be investigated. 

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A statement written by Harriott and posted on COBA’s Instagram disclosed that she “filed a complaint against Maribel with the Office of Institutional Equity. I found it odd that I did not receive a confirmation email from OIE confirming they received my report.” She continued that she, “never was asked to meet with an investigator or asked to submit a statement about the incident.” 

It was then reported that Alvarez humiliated Harriott and refused to meet with her and Black student leadership about their needs. On Sept. 30, Harriott attempted to confront Alvarez in her office at the MLK building on campus to express her feelings of discontent. After Harriott confronted Alvarez about the maltreatment of students — especially herself — she was greeted by three police cars outside of the MLK building.

“Three police cars for one Disabled Black Queer student [arrived]" and "they positioned their vehicles in front of every accessible exit, knowing full well that they were weaponizing the ableist architecture that the University is entirely made out of,” COBA organizers expressed in their incident report. 

For years we have seen how the outrageous and unwarranted use of police — that is perpetuated by institutions of power — has been weaponized against Black and marginalized people of color. So although this is what we expect, it should not be something we accept from the UA.

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Although the UA has released a statement regarding Alvarez and the incident with promises to, “launch a national search for a new Vice President and Chief Inclusion Officer,” add a Senior Director of Cultural and Resource Centers and make more space for the AASA in the MLK Building, this does not address the root cause of the problem. Alvarez and others that contribute to violence against minority students must be removed from their positions of power and follow set standards of accountability. 

The UA stated that “Dr. Alvarez will continue in her role as Interim Associate Vice Provost, working on campus initiatives.” It was not mentioned if any other administrators will face any consequences for the irresponsible actions committed against Harriott.  

The UA also claimed in this statement that it was not Alvarez who called the police on Harriott. “Importantly, it has been falsely shared that Dr. Maribel Alvarez, Interim Associate Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, made the initial call to UAPD. She did not,” stated the UA’s president, Dr. Robert C. Robbins. 

However, a case summary report by the University of Arizona Police Department regarding the incident on Sep. 30 has been circulating on COBA’s Instagram and across campus that completely contradicts Robbins' claims. 

The Daily Wildcat reached out multiple times to the Tucson Police Department to legitimize the police report but has not heard back. 

The case report relays that Alvarez was the one that made the initial call. “A few minutes before she called UAPD at 1518 hours, Alvarez walked into her building and she saw Kai Harriott and 2 other students,” the report noted. 

All students and administrators need to recognize that this discrimination and abuse affect all of us. The actions taken by Alvarez and the response by Robbins are not representative of our values as a student body. Asani Fowler, a student organizer with COBA and a student worker with AASA told me that if you are not listening to the experiences of Black and marginalized students on campus, you are contributing to this oppression. 

“If you are ignorant of the situation, then you are purposefully not trying to pay attention, you are purposefully putting yourself in a position to be ignorant. A professor was murdered last week, a Black, disabled, queer woman had the police called on her in the MLK Building. These are not isolated events,” Fowler asserted. 

After the police were called on Harriot, COBA released a series of demands on their social media pages. I highly encourage everyone to read through all of these demands, but if there is anything that you can take from it, it’s that Alvarez and other administrators that were involved in the traumatic incident experienced by Harriot should be immediately removed or resign from their positions. Students and administrators should also be focusing on community response rather than UAPD or any other community police presence on campus. 

“More police and more surveillance, more threat assessment and more securitization will not make us safer. We make us safer,” claimed Gary Rhoades, a UA professor of Educational Policy Studies and Practice at the Oct. 14 protest.

We cannot continue to allow our own administration, which is supposed to offer us protection, to continue with policies and practices that negatively impact students. Using the police and refusing to meet with students as a scapegoat for solving problems is pathetic and detrimental to lives in our communities. 

Several members of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion staff took the first steps recently in support of holding administrators accountable, stating in a staff letter that, “a large coalition of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) full time staff, write today in support of Coalition of Black Students and Allies’ (COBA) demand for the resignation of Dr. Maribel Alvarez, Interim Associate Vice Provost and the relocation of all other ODI administration out of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center (MLK).” Now other administrators must do the same. 

Harriott acknowledged that this isn’t just a single group or person's problem because all of our struggles intersect. If one group is hurting, we are all hurting. So help COBA and AASA fight for Black students' rights and ultimately our rights. 

Follow COBA on Instagram, @coba_uarizona, for more information on upcoming events and actions and sign their open letter to the UA’s president, Dr. Robert C. Robbins, and Maribel Alvarez to support their demands.


Follow Sophia Hammer on Twitter



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Sophia is a sophomore majoring in family studies & human development and global studies. She loves to write pieces concerning politics that affect the Tucson and UA community.


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