Protesters demand justice for student removed from apartment
Organizers present list of demands to University
More than 120 student demonstrators gathered outside of American University’s Mary Graydon Center on Monday to demand justice for Gianna Wheeler, a student who was removed from her apartment by police officers late last month.
A video showing AUPD, D.C. Fire and EMS carrying Wheeler from her home at the Frequency Apartments circulated on Twitter on Sept. 27. The video received over 23,000 views, garnering outrage from students.
The “HANDS OFF GIANNA” protest was organized in response to the incident by AU students, Black Lives Matter DC activists and The Future is Feminist members. It was meant to draw attention to Wheeler’s conduct hearing, which they said took place in Constitution Hall at 1 p.m.
Protesters said Wheeler was falsely accused by another AU student of physical assault, and the hearing would determine if her suspension from the University was lifted.
Wheeler informed protest organizer Shelly Pevchin that her suspension is set to be lifted by the Dean of Students on Tuesday, Pevchin said. University spokesperson Kelly Alexander could not confirm the outcome of conduct hearings, stating that they are protected for student privacy.
“It’s not the end, but it’s truly the beginning because AU students – and particularly women of color and black people on this campus – have been discriminated against,” said Chyna Brodie, another organizer and a freshman in the School of Public Affairs.
The protests moved between the outside of Constitution Hall and in front of MGC. Protesters intended to enter Constitution Hall, but AUPD officers were posted outside the building to prevent entry. They blocked the stairs of MGC and held hands, saying that they would not let individuals access the building through the main doors.
The protesters also led chants and encouraged onlookers to rush the steps and join the protest. During this, the protest leaders encouraged white demonstrators to move toward the front.
“White students need to stand up front to protect our black brothers and sisters,” Pevchin said. “Understand that cops will not touch white students.”
Pevchin told the Eagle about a list of demands she and the other protesters came up with for the University.
These include allowing Wheeler to retake any classes she needs free of charge, paying for any of her therapy costs and firing the officers that were involved in the incident. They also demanded that the University release statements outlining that mistakes were made and what will be done to prevent this in the future.
Brodie was grateful for the turnout at the protest.
“I want to say to all the students that came up and supported us and came on the steps, thank you so much,” Brodie said. “This could have happened to any of us.”
AU spokesperson Alexander gave a statement to The Eagle stating that the safety and welfare of students is a top priority, but she was unable to specifically confirm details of Wheeler’s case. She said that AU is committed to freedom of expression and dissent, but stated that demonstrators must prioritize safety, the rights of others and the University’s normal functions.
Organizers plan to continue protesting, they said, with the goal of bringing more attention to Wheeler’s experience and AU’s response to their demands.
“We're probably going to be doing actions in the next couple of weeks that are more disruptive,” Pevchin said. “The reason that we wanted to minimize the disruption [today] was because we didn't want it to affect the decision.”
Abbie Veitch, Kimberly Cataudella and Kelsey Carolan contributed reporting to this story.