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University Leaders Respond To #AntiBlackISU Student Concerns

Student holds AntiBlackISU sign
Jennifer Haiden
Courtesy of Vidette
Illinois State University students during a demonstration Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, on the Quad. See more photos at VidetteOnline.com.

A top official at Illinois State University said Tuesday that the administration is taking seriously the concerns of black students who are demanding better treatment of minority-led student organizations and other changes.

The #AntiBlackISU movement spread across campus this week after the Black Homecoming Committee went public Oct. 4 claiming it faced roadblocks while trying to plan an event at Redbird Arena. In the days since, other students have stepped forward to raise concerns about how they or their groups have been treated, culminating in Monday’s #AntiBlackISU rally on the Quad.

Black student leaders have sent ISU President Larry Dietz and other administrators a list of seven demands, including a culturally centered organization that is as well-financed and supported as the University Program Board, or UPB, one of the most prominent event-planning groups on campus.

“We take our student concerns seriously, especially as it relates to their experiences,” ISU Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson said Tuesday. “Each student has their own experience, and if some of those have not been the best, we want to understand what those challenges and issues are. And we need to start working toward improvements on that.”

The administration was reviewing the seven demands, he said. They include:

  • “We want transparency when it comes to policies and procedures pertaining to event planning, venue updates, rules, and reservations.”
  • “We want faculty and staff advisors that represent us and that are fully supported by the University.”
  • “We want an unbiased task force specifically created to assess the concerns of minority groups. Whether it be roommate concerns, professor/classroom concerns, or general concerns that specifically pertain to students of color.”

Around 9% of ISU’s student body is black. ISU regularly touts its campus diversity, including on its “Metrics of Excellence” list.

Black student leaders say that claim does not match the campus climate.

“They recruit us to claim diversity, but while we’re here they do nothing for us,” the Black Homecoming Committee said on Twitter. “We have to create our own experiences as students that the university doesn’t. … We’re fed up and we want that to change. We want to make this issue extremely visible to the higher ups in the University. We shouldn’t have to deal with this every year.”

Ashley Dumas, a leader with BHC, declined to comment Tuesday.

Event at Redbird Arena

One of the catalyst moments for #AntiBlackISU was the Black Homecoming Committee’s concerns with the planning of a Oct. 25 concert at Redbird Arena. On Twitter, BHC said they “had Redbird Arena solidified for a concert,” only to see it canceled on Oct. 1 “because of a last-minute volleyball practice.” ISU officials say the "volleyball practice" claim is inaccurate.

The list of demands sent to ISU administrators also asks that event-related campus departments “be held accountable for discrimination” and that white-majority student groups be “subject to the same policies and procedures as black organizations, such as metal detectors, pat downs, extra security, etc.”

“We were notified last minute that ISU (Police) had to confirm an artist before the actual event could be confirmed,” the letter said. “Throughout the entire process, we were never notified of this.”

Athletics Director Larry Lyons and Johnson, the ISU administrator, both said BHC never had a formal contract or agreement for Redbird Arena.

“It’s my understanding that the students, due to cost for security as well a different timeframe of which was opened up for them, they did not wish to accept those terms,” Johnson said. “So therefore, the event was never booked, in that sense.”

Lyons said Athletics tried to make the event work, despite a previously scheduled team practice Oct. 25 inside the arena, and a women’s basketball scrimmage set for early Oct. 26. The need for event security was another consideration, Lyons said.

He said the event was not canceled “because of a last-minute volleyball practice.” In fact, the Redbird volleyball team is traveling to southern Illinois and Missouri that weekend.

“We were trying to figure out a way to do this,” Lyons said. “When you put all those things together, it just wasn’t something we could get done.”

University Response

In a campuswide email Tuesday, Dietz it "troubles me deeply when Illinois State is characterized as not upholding its value of diversity and inclusion."

"In the coming days, I will be inviting representatives from concerned student, faculty and staff groups to meet with the Campus Climate Task Force and me," Dietz wrote. "We promise to listen to ideas and determine how we can move forward in making Illinois State University a better place for everyone."

But Dietz also defended Athletics and the Redbird volleyball team.

"Information regarding scheduling conflicts with ISU’s volleyball program are equally inaccurate," Dietz wrote. "Neither the Redbird volleyball coach or any assistants or staff members had any involvement in any potential event discussions."

The BHC and the Black Student Union hosted an open forum Monday night, when even more grievances were aired. Johnson attended with Dean of Students John Davenport.

“This is gonna lead to further conversations and more specifically an opportunity for those students who are interested to engage and interact with the administration in additional dialogue and conversations and hopefully some solutions to make their experience that much better on this campus,” Johnson said.

ISU Association of Black Academic Employees President Quanisha Kumi-Darfour said she applauds students for raising their concerns. She said her group stands with them in solidarity.

"When you are in a place where you're not the majority, there are instances when you don't feel included in any practices or things that might be going on," Kumi-Darfour said. "And so with that, I think they have every right to vocalize these experiences and what they're going through, for everybody to know about them."

Student leaders with BSU and the Student Government Association did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

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Ryan Denham is the content director for WGLT and WCBU.
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