By Lorena Grajales, News Editor-
UTC’s Young Democratic Socialists of America organized a demonstration on Chamberlain Field for senior Sydnie Jeffers, after the Office of Student Conduct dropped an investigation against her for disorderly conduct, regarding a Black Lives Matter protest over the summer.
According to Jeffers, she was arrested by four state troopers at Coolidge Park in May of this year for placing one foot on the sidewalk, after being instructed by an officer to get on said sidewalk.
Two weeks after her initial court appearance in July for the class C misdemeanor, Jeffers received a letter from UTC that stated she had violated the student code of conduct. The YDSA started a petition that urged the university to drop charges against her, which was signed and shared by numerous students throughout social media.
In the official letter from the coordinator of Student Conduct, the university determined the case as “inconclusive” on Monday, Oct. 19. For Jeffers, this meant her violation could not be currently founded or unfounded.
Dr. Ethan Mills, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion and member of UTC’s United Campus Workers, explained how the university’s response could discourage students from using their voices to raise awareness on certain issues in the future.
“This kind of reaction to people exercising their first amendment rights is very disturbing to me,” Mills said. “It might make students unwilling to participate in protests or to use their free speech right if they know the university administration might punish them for it.”
On Wednesday, Oct. 21, Jeffers asserted her disappointment towards the administration’s actions which she felt unreasonably targeted her and spoke to a group of students who showed up as a sign of unity.
“Instead of having my back, my university charged me. They sought to punish me for using my voice, for using my rights under the constitution,” she said.
Jennah Hyppolite, UTC junior and President of the YDSA said she believes administration dropped the charges solely to pacify students. Although their demand was met, she encouraged students to keep fighting.
“UTC wants us to be complacent and we’re not going to take the scraps that they give us,” Hyppolite said. “Use your voice for change, words have power and when we use them, we can make a difference.”
The last speaker of the evening was Evelina Kertay, junior and Vice President of the YDSA, who described how the fundamental values of the organization -liberation and solidarity- factored into their success.
“We came together and got students, alumni, professors and citizens to come forward and say that those actions were unacceptable and administration backed down,” she said.
Jeffers, who was forced to take a year-long break from school after being diagnosed with cancer, said it has been difficult to cope with the stress that the investigation brought.
“It’s taken a lot for me to come this far in my college career… the one thing I told myself was ‘I got to get better so I can go to school and keep pursuing my goals and dreams,’” she said. “…And then to be hit with this, it’s been heavy.”
Jeffers explained she hopes no other student experiences a similar situation, which she described as “humiliating.” She also felt she did not receive complete fair treatment from UTC and directly asked them to, “do more for your students.”
Despite the challenges she faced, Jeffers opened up about the one lesson she learned through this unexpected journey.
“People are so much powerful than we think we are. Our voice has so much power…just showing up and saying something really makes a difference.”
As the demonstration finalized, members of the UCW invited students to sign a request for an independent civilian oversight board. This panel would investigate complaints against individual officers in the Chattanooga Police Department, to help in student and citizen cases like Jeffers’.