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U of M student Rahsaan Mahadeo awarded, then arrested for his activism

Mahadeo (right) and other students who took part in the takeover of Morrill Hall.

Mahadeo (right) and other students who took part in the takeover of Morrill Hall.

Rahsaan Mahadeo, a soft-spoken Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota, has so many charges for trespassing and disorderly conduct racked against him that he can barely focus on his dissertation.

Last December, he was among the 36 Black Lives Matter protesters to get arrested at the Mall of America. Released from custody with but a one-year ban from the mall, he thought he was in the clear for criminal charges. A letter arrived in February: Bloomington city attorney Sandra Johnson would see him in court after all.

That was just three days before Mahadeo was prepared to get himself arrested yet again, this time on campus.

On February 9, about 20 students marched through the tunnel system toward U President Eric Kaler’s office. As they came up into the basement of Morrill Hall, two police officers appeared and tried to cordon the group. Mahadeo and two others slipped past and demanded to speak to Kaler. With a nod from the president, the rest of the group bum-rushed the office.

The students said they wanted more full-time faculty for the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies, which at the time had only one. They demanded that the U reopen the Post-secondary Teaching and Learning Program for adult learners who were typically working-class, first-generation college students with families. And they wanted the U to quit sending crime alerts that featured the suspect’s race but were otherwise too vague to actually identify anybody.

These were all changes that the U promised to be “working on,” Mahadeo says. But the problem was, the U was perpetually working on things without any real outcomes to show for it.

After about seven hours of negotiations without concessions, Kaler and other University officials asked the students to leave. The cops stepped in, arresting the students one by one.

Mahadeo was accused of disruptive behavior and refusal to comply. The city attorney later suggested dropping charges, but the University insisted.

“Fighting the charges has been a big interference with trying to get work done,” says Mahadeo. “But there are bigger implications than us having a clean record. We’re really trying to affect systemic changes with regard to how the University treats students who express various forms of political dissent.”

Ironically, just eight months ago, the U gave Mahadeo an award for outstanding community service, based on the time he spent volunteering with gun-control group Silence the Violence, homeless drop-in center Safe Zone, youth shelter Bridge for Youth, and other organizations.

The volunteering and the activism has always been a part of him, Mahadeo says. Prior to coming to Minnesota for school, he worked as a social worker investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect.

Last week, about 169 U faculty signed a petition in support of Mahadeo and the 12 other students who were arrested, jailed and charged.