The Talent Development Program is an integral to maintaining diversity at the University of Rhode Island, but this would not be possible if it wasn’t for the numerous protests of past students who demanded equal opportunities.
About 1,400 University of Rhode Island students are currently part of the program, which aims to give students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds opportunities for a college degree. Since the program began in 1968, thousands of students have taken advantage of these opportunities.
“The lives of the students on campus have progressed because of these protests,” said Frank Forleo, who began working with TD in 1974 and is now the assistant director for Talent Development Admissions. “I absolutely encourage the protests.”
Three years after Talent Development’s first class graduated, in which 11 of 13 students made it through, URI’s proposed budget appeared to eliminate the TD program.
Forleo said most university administrators at the time would argue the students overreacted and the faculty was planning on adding TD’s funding to the budget. However, Forleo said, that is not how the students saw it.
Also, along with the cut in funding, the students had a list of demands, which included, more diversity in the URI staff, the implementation of a Black Studies Program and a birth control center within the health services and more.
In an attempt to be heard, the students locked themselves in Carlotti, which was the administrative building at the time. This was considered a federal building. Hundreds of kids were scattered outside the building joining the protests to show solidarity.
After hours of protesting, the President of the University, Werner Baum showed up with the state police. Forleo, who was an undergraduate student at the time, was one of the students outside. He said the police came with batons and riot gear. When students started to get in the way, he said, the police went at the students outside. They cut the chain and smashed the door with a battering ram.
Different accounts say what happened next. However, it’s safe to say that Leo DiMaio, who was a founding member of TD and helped build the program, got between the police and the building, along with possibly Rev. Arthur Hardge.
Daniel Price, Jr., who was one of the main leaders of the protest, wrote this after the event:
“We were all lying on the floor with our arms interlocked and just when the police hit the door with a battering ram (or whatever they used), a photographer’s flash bulb went through the door – very scary. The first person to enter the room was Mr. [DiMaio], scurrying over the file cabinets and desks we had used for the barricade, shouting to the State Police Captain by name – ‘Don’t lay a hand on any one of my students in this room.’”
Price went on to say that none of the students inside were touched. However, some of the students outside “got beaten up pretty badly.” After the protest ended, URI provided the funding for TD in the budget.
In 1992, Forleo said there were a series of incidents, most of which stemmed from relations between campus police and students of color on campus. A group of students, who called themselves the Black Student Leadership Group, was formed in an attempt to change these relations.
As a response, URI brought a consultant in to deal with the problems. However, students found it to be inconclusive at the best, Forleo said. The students continued to meet over the summer. Although it started with campus police relations, the students also protested for more diversity on campus, black studies major and individual courses, more scholarships available, a better Multicultural Center and more. Many of these were the same demands of 1971.
When fall came around, students came back to campus to see Malcolm X misquoted on the library, which still stands today. Also, a John Adams quote was on the other side, which many African American students saw as disrespectful because of his use of slaves.
The Black Student Leadership Group took over Taft, the building where Talent Development is operated. They held a press conference and listed 14 demands. Compared to 1971, there was more diversity in these protests.
“If the students didn’t protest in ’92, I don’t think the Multicultural Center would be how it is today – on the center of campus,” Forleo said. “My conscious told me I have to advise them to follow the path they were on.”
After The Good 5 Cent Cigar printed a cartoon about affirmative action, a protest movement followed and demanded a cutoff of the paper’s funding.
A group of students who called themselves Brothers United for Action led a march from Taft to the Cigar office in the Memorial Union, demanding for the newspaper to be shut down. About 200 students followed the group.
“Marc [Hardge, a Talent Development Coordinator] was one of the leading voices, along with Berry O’Connor, [who is now an adjunct faculty member for the African American Studies program at URI],” said Forleo. “It started at the steps of Taft and, Â by the time the Brothers United for Action group got to the Cigar offices, there were still people at the steps. That’s how big the group was.”
The Student Senate froze the Cigar’s funding. However, after a forum was held about the First Amendment, funding was restored. The protest led to a dialogue.
“In 1971, they came with batons. In 1992, we saw a different approach. URI President [Robert] Carothers saw the students as heroes. The sacrifice of the students in ’71 changed the reaction on this campus to protests. Even in 2015, when the LGBTQ community took over the 24 hour room, it led to dialogue.”