When Jamarah Amani sent her daughter to a one-week STEM summer camp at the University of Miami, she expected her 12-year old to come home excited to share all of the cool things she was learning about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Instead, on the second day of camp, Mahoro Amani told her mom that she was called the n-word and a derogatory term for lesbian by a white camp participant.
“She didn't come home and tell me, ‘This is what I learned in camp today.’ She came home and said, ‘I was called a n----r to my face.”
Amani says she was not satisfied with how the UM camp handled the incident. The student who used the racial epithet was allowed to complete the one-week camp and although that student had to apologize to her daughter, the camp also had Mahoro apologize for her reaction.
Mahoro called the other student "a racist b---h"
“My daughter shouldn’t have to apologize for defending herself,” said Amani, who wanted the student who used the racial and homophobic slur to be suspended from camp for one day.
The University of Miami confirmed there was an incident with slurs that happened at the STEM +L Academy camp for middle school students. In a statement, a spokesperson wrote, “The University of Miami and School of Education and Human Development do not tolerate hate speech of any kind and will address incidents that detract from our learning environment and opportunities.”
Amani says Mahoro told her the white student was using the derogatory term for lesbians to describe another girl in the camp who had a deep voice and Mahoro told her to stop.
“My daughter was explaining why that was wrong and why she shouldn't use that word. My daughter said it would be like using the n-word, it's just wrong,” and that’s when Amani says the other camp-goer called her daughter the n-word and the derogatory word for lesbian.
Amani says after her daughter told her what happened she emailed the camp’s co-director.
In the email, provided to WLRN she wrote, “I would like for my child to be in a safe environment to learn this week. This type of language and name calling is vile, racist and homophobic. It is violent and cannot be tolerated in a learning environment.”
The co-director of the camp Ji Shen responded that there would be a meeting with the other student’s parents and the student would have to apologize to Mahoro.
Shen added, “Mahoro has been an excellent student in the camp and I hope this won't prevent her from coming back to the camp.”
Amani considered not sending her daughter back to camp, but Mahoro told her mom she would not be intimidated into not participating in a camp that involved her favorite subject, science.
Amani brought her daughter back to camp and she says even after meeting with the camp organizers, she was not aware that her daughter was going to have to also apologize to the student who called her slurs.
After WLRN reached out to UM for comment and a day after the camp ended, the Dean of the School of Education and Human Development posted an open letter about the incident on Facebook, saying the university will continue to investigate and address what happened. The letter was posted with links on how to talk to children about race.
The camp took place in UM’s Merrick Building, named after developer George Merrick, the founder of Coral Gables and the person who donated the land for UM to be built. In the 1930s, he advocated for all black families to be pushed out of Miami's city limits and into “negro towns” in West Miami-Dade.
“That irony is not lost on me, that it happened in that building,” says Amani. “I'm tired of dealing with these situations as a black mom. I don't feel like I can adequately protect my children. It's just constantly having to confront unsafe spaces just to live, just to learn things that every child has a right to do.”