‘We’re here to support students’: Dean Holmes responds to trans protest controversy

Photo credit: Roberta Macedo

This article was updated on April 13, 2023, 2:12 p.m. to reflect that the form previously referenced “free speech zones” and to include the remainder of Plaza’s opinion.

In response to an article published last week, April 5, 2023, called “UM protest rule clashes with trans-rights activists”, Dean Ryan C. Holmes, Dean of Students and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, has elaborated on the story.

He says his office did more to help facilitate the demonstration, beginning a month out from the proposed date, March 31, 2023.

On March 4, 2023, Luna Plaza, a first-year studying psychology and anthropology, contacted the Dean of Students Office to organize a “die-in” on the Foote Greene “in support of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.”

Holmes followed up two days later, asking that she complete a form describing the protest and they later organize a meeting.

“I read the form and I wanted to know where the designated free speech zones are,” Plaza replied in her email.

Her plan was to use these zones for a “non-planned” action during the week of March 6, 2023.

The form includes a bullet mentioning that “Spontaneous (non‐planned) demonstrations are restricted to designated University of Miami free speech zones.”

However, Holmes said there are no free-speech zones on campus. He plans to update the form to reflect this.

Any demonstration requires the completion of the one-page, Dean of Students Office form, describing the nature of the event.

The Demonstration Request form required of students who wish to protest on campus. Dean Holmes shared in a previous TMH article that he had never refused a demonstration due to its content.
The Demonstration Request form required of students who wish to protest on campus. Dean Holmes shared in a previous TMH article that he had never refused a demonstration due to its content. Photo credit: Patrick Mccaslin

Holmes elaborated to say that if the demonstration included any outside entities, that he preferred it be a “fair-style” event. He mentioned this to Plaza in a phone discussion. Plaza did plan to invite outside entities to the demonstration that she described as organizers with “decades of experience.”

One of these groups included Florida National Organization of Women, a group that uses grassroots activism to “promote feminist ideals, lead societal change, eliminate discrimination, and achieve and protect the equal rights of all women and girls.”

At this point, Holmes connected Plaza with Oscar Vasquez, the associate director of the Student Activities Center, to further coordinate an event.

On March 7, Vasquez let Plaza know most areas were booked leading up to spring break on March 11, but he would be happy to facilitate the event once she submitted the form.

At this point, Holmes lost contact with Plaza.

Later, in the last week of March, the UM Police Department notified Holmes of a potential demonstration. Initially, the demonstration appeared to be entirely organized by outside actors.

Without the form, Holmes said he could not know the nature of the demonstration.

“If we know that there’s a possibility of having hundreds of people or, who knows, thousands of people converging upon the campus, we have a duty to make sure that our faculty, students, staff, administration and other vendors who are on the campus are safe,” Holmes said.

After some asking around, Holmes learned Plaza was involved in organizing the demonstration.

He then sent an email to Plaza on March 30, advising her that the planned event conflicted directly with university policy. Plaza responded on March 31 with a brief message.

“The walkout today at Lakeside Patio will no longer be occurring,” Plaza said in her email.

Holmes followed up on April 6, offering to learn more about Plaza’s thoughts around the demonstration.

“This message is in no way intended to be a summons of any type; but I would like for us to zoom or speak in person so I can better understand the thoughts and feelings present. If you accept, please know you are more than welcome to have another present with you as I seek to better understand last week’s approach,” a portion of the email read.

An hour later, Holmes read “UM protest rule clashes with trans-rights activists” and contacted The Miami Hurricane.

“I was shocked honestly, because the statements that the student [Plaza] had given were not factual,” Holmes said.

He elaborated saying that part of his mission was to ensure university policies and procedures are followed. However, he said, when he could make interpretations in support of the student, he would do so.

At its crux, Holmes said, he wanted to support Plaza or any other student in their vision, but needed to open a conversation to do so. Not filling out the demonstration form, he said, also prevented collaboration between the university and the students.

“If you’re not giving the university the opportunity to say yes, we’re putting ourselves already in a bad situation and that is why just a walk out protest, you know, does not work on the campus, especially since, as a private institution, we govern time, space and manner of an event,” Holmes said.

In the past, the university has approved events in a 24 to 48 hour window, which could be compatible with the spontaneous ideal of a walkout.

Plaza disagrees.

Plaza says the university has yet to stand with students against recent legislation passed in the Florida legislature. When asked about other shows of support, such as DragOut, an annual drag show hosted by UM in the Shalala Student Center Grand Ballroom, Plaza responded that the spirit of a walkout is different.

Similarly, the rally that was held in late February, 2023 and vetted by the university did not align with what Plaza had envisioned for the demonstration. She said it was powerful in uplifting voices, yet the proposed demonstration would be different. It was supposed to be more disruptive.

“I appreciate that they want to support us,” Plaza said.

However, support from the university conflicts with the mission of the walkout according to Plaza.

“Our demands are very explicitly anti-state because of the legislation and the school is funded by the state,” Plaza said.

UM does receive state funding. It is worth noting, however, that UM does not fund any political campaigns in the state according to its 2019-2020 audit. Additionally, UM is not held to the same state standards as a public institution which must comply more closely with the Florida government’s requests.

She also shared that the requirement of UMPD at the demonstration made her uneasy.

Holmes expanded on this, saying that he had met jointly with UMPD and students in support of the student in the past.

However, Plaza says, she has had bad experiences with police, even community resource officers and campus police officers in general.

For her, the university should be able to trust her years of experience and the reputation of the organizations involved in the demonstration.

“The state and anything that upholds the state is not what is keeping us safe,” Plaza said. “Our safety arises from mutual care with one another, holding each other accountable and interrupting violence in our communities.”

Holmes says that without the form, it isn’t possible to know.

“If they want to learn, they can go to the action themselves,” Plaza said.

While Plaza’s perspective is not compatible with the current university policy requiring demonstrations to be approved, she believes that falls on the university to change.

“I think the policy needs to change,” Plaza said. “Actions are not being organized by the university. They’re being organized by students.”

Holmes said the policy predates him and declined to offer personal opinion on the policy.