"As a non-black person of color, my place here is not to speak for my black family members," Mejia told the crowd. "My place here is as an accomplice, to throw my body into the twin, heartless gears of white supremacy and anti-black racism that run this city and university — to force them to grind to a halt."
Mejia, the assistant director of UVM's office of student and community relations, has been on a water-only diet since Friday, the same day someone taped racially charged note cards to the Mosaic Center for Students of Color display case.
"When you get to the point where you are starting to target specific departments, the next logical step is someone targeting an individual with violence," Mejia said in an interview. "I could not live another day with myself if I thought that was true and I did not take as much action as possible to make it stop."
UVM students and John Mejia (in green) outside the Waterman Building
A group dubbed NoNames for Justice, which previously sent administrators a list of demands related to racial justice on campus, organized the "Done with the Bullsh*t Rally!"
After Mejia's address, the crowd moved into the Waterman Building, where student organizer Angelica Crespo briefed protesters on safety precautions and reminded them to follow all instructions from campus police officers.
Inside the building, more student organizers took the microphone. Some led the crowd in chanting slogans in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and to demand the resignation of three administrators, including UVM president Tom Sullivan and vice provost for student affairs Annie Stevens.
Sullivan and Stevens both signed an email sent earlier in the day addressed to "members of the University of Vermont community" concerning the recent racist incidents and Mejia's decision to begin a hunger strike.
"As a public institution we remain mindful of the rights of all to express freely their views on issues of importance," the letter reads. "Our university remains steadfast in our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and racial equality, and as we grapple with these difficult challenges, we will continue, as we have, to speak out against racism, bigotry and injustice."
Harmony Edosomwan, president of the Black Student Union, acknowledged that some progress has been made in addressing campus inequities. For example, the Student Government Association has increased funding to clubs affiliated with the Mosaic Center for Students of Color, she said.
After the event, David Daigle, chair of the university's board of trustees, offered his "unwavering support for the senior leadership of the University of Vermont."
"These professionals have dedicated their careers to promoting student interests, and have been strong and vocal advocates in fostering a welcoming and tolerant environment for all students," Daigle said in a statement. "They should be commended by our entire community."
Read Mejia's full list of demands below:
1. Complete adoption of all student demands from #nonamesforjustice
2. Installation of a fourth flag pole at the Davis Center to permanently fly a Black Lives Matter Flag
3. Tripling the staff of the Mosaic Center for Students of Color and its operating budget
4. Board of Trustees to announce UVM's endorsement of the Movement for Black Lives platform as an institutional supporter
5. Submit an application in collaboration with the City of Burlington to the Kellogg Foundation for the implementation of their $4 million grant for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation and the formation of a Racial Justice Center at UVM
6. Ongoing and intensive training of UVM police in anti-racism and implicit bias on a semester basis. The permanent installation of a Black Lives Matter flag installed at UVM police headquarters
7. Increased funding for anti-racist events on campus from all sources including but not limited to Training & Professional Development, University Program Board, all named lecture series, etc.
8. Committing to becoming a Restorative Institution and city within 5 years.
9. Funding for 4 full-time positions to offer ongoing Examining White Identity and Racial Aikido Trainings for all interested staff and faculty. Increase capacity so that these trainings are offered to ALL NEW EMPLOYEES.