Faculty and students remembered Sayed Faisal, the 20-year-old University of Massachusetts Boston student killed by Cambridge police in January, during a daylong teach-in and memorial service at UMass Boston Friday.
UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco also announced last week the establishment of an endowed scholarship in Faisal’s name to “ensure that his legacy lives on at UMass Boston.”
“The honorary scholarship in Sayed Arif’s name will provide tuition support to talented students with financial need who are interested in pursuing careers in public service,” Suárez-Orozco said in a speech at the memorial service Friday. The online announcement of the scholarship added that more details about how individuals can contribute are forthcoming.
Faisal was fatally shot Jan. 4 during a confrontation with police while appearing to suffer from a mental health crisis, sparking outrage and demands for accountability across Cambridge and Boston. His death also deeply disturbed members of the UMass Boston community, faculty and students told the Globe. Cambridge police and city officials have refused to release the name of the officer who shot Faisal, saying the officer has a right to privacy during an ongoing investigation.
The scholarship and Friday’s remembrance event came after faculty members who were disappointed with what they called a tepid email about Faisal’s death pushed the UMass Boston administration to do more to recognize the community’s loss. The Jan. 6 email from Karen Ferrer-Muñiz, vice chancellor for student affairs did not mention that Faisal was killed by a police officer.
“We were frustrated because he didn’t just pass of cancer,” said Chris Barcelos, assistant professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at UMass Boston who hosted a workshop at the teach-in on alternatives to calling the police on someone in crisis. “Faculty and staff were really affected by the fact that this was one of our students and that the campus hadn’t really done anything except let us know that it happened.”
In the wake of Faisal’s killing, Barcelos was one of many faculty members who signed an open letter calling on Chancellor Suárez-Orozco to exhibit leadership by making “a meaningful acknowledgement of what happened and to start a scholarship fund in [Faisal’s] memory,” Barcelos said.
The new endowed scholarship is an “appropriate step for the university to take,” said Elora Chowdhury, a UMass Boston professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies who helped organize the day of remembrance and called on the university to create the fund.
“This scholarship is part of a solidarity statement with the community and with the family,” Chowdhury said. “In that sense, it reflects the various kinds of public advocacy and activism that have been happening in the wake of this tragedy.”
Chowdhury was also one of the organizers of Friday’s teach-in, a nonstop day of workshops and panels running from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and focusing on subjects ranging from racism, policing, and alternative responses to community belonging to the immigrant experience in Boston.
Faisal’s shooting “really touched the nerve on our campus because we serve a student body that is largely immigrant,” Chowdhury said. “We thought we needed a broader discussion about these issues of structural racism, appropriate responses to mental health emergencies, various kinds of community advocacy that are being organized around the city, and accountability from the leaders of our community, our university.”
In his March 14 announcement of the scholarship and day of remembrance, Suárez-Orozco thanked those who spoke out.
“We support and commend members of our community who raise their voices in support of Sayed’s family and in protest of the senseless killing,” Suárez-Orozco said. “Our university community believes in and supports active conversation and the pursuit of truth as a noble expression of citizenship and civic responsibility for the well-being of others. We clamor for a transparent investigation and, as always, the pursuit of justice.”
Fatema Ahmad, executive director of the Muslim Justice League who sat on a community activism panel at the teach-in, was one of the local organizers at the memorial who has helped coordinate numerous protests of the Cambridge police and city government for their response to the shooting.
“[Faisal’s] death at the hands of Cambridge police has really impacted so many different communities in the area from Cambridge, where he lived, to Somerville, where he went to school, and UMass Boston, where he was attending school as well,” Ahmad said. “I think the broader conversation about mental health and policing on campus is also really significant, along with this scholarship.”
Chowdhury said through organizing the teach-in, faculty took on the challenges of centering conversations on systemic oppressions that many UMass Boston students of color face daily.
“We are heartened to see that the administration came forward and that they responded to the university-wide calls for justice and have joined along with the faculty and the students to honor Faisal in a loving way and express our outrage at what happened to him,” Chowdhury said.
In addition to the scholarship in his name, Suárez-Orozco recognized Faisal’s legacy as a UMass Boston student at the memorial by announcing his family would receive a posthumous certificate of honor.
“As a parent, I would want to know after this tragedy that my kid’s name was not forgotten,” Barcelos said. “His life and his death were not forgotten on this campus that he was a part of.”
Sonel Cutler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @cutler_sonel.