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Students, Trustees Want Better Communication From ISU On Anti-Racism Efforts

Larry Lyons speaks at a virtual meeting
Breanna Grow
ISU Athletic Director Larry Lyons updated members of the Board of Trustees on the department's relations with student athletes Saturday afternoon.

Illinois State University students and board trustees say they want more updates from administrators on their progress addressing anti-Blackness on campus.

Anti-Black ISU leader Ashley Dumas appeared before the board of trustees in October to share her optimism about the future of talks with administrators.

On Saturday afternoon, nearly a year later, Dumas spoke to trustees virtually to say the progress since then has been insufficient.

“Work like this takes time, we know,” said Dumas. “But it’s almost a year later, and we still need tangible plans projected for the years to come.”

Dumas also presented the group’s updated list of demands to the board, including conducting an official audit of relations between ISU Police and Black students, hiring additional Black mental health professionals at the student counseling center, and adding a policy to the university code of conduct to address hate speech.

Dumas said she realizes the university is likely working on many of the group’s demands. “But the problem is there’s a lack of communication, and we are asking you all as (the board of trustees) to submit these demands as a priority to administrators and the ISU community at large.”

Dumas asked trustees to hold administrators accountable by requesting quarterly updates to the board and the community.

Anti-Black ISU isn’t the only student group that’s been pushing the university for more progress to address racism.

Athletic Director Larry Lyons told trustees he and others in the department have been in conversation with the Student Athlete Advisory Council in the weeks since he made his “All Redbird Lives Matter” comments.

Student athletes staged a boycott of all team activities after Lyons’ comment, and at least one student athlete called for his resignation.

Lyons said as far as he knows the students have all returned to practice. Lyons again apologized for the misstep.

“I made a very serious mistake when I made comments with our student-athletes a few weeks ago,” he said. “I take responsibility for those comments and I’m truly sorry.”

Lyons pledged enhanced education for staff and coaches, intentional hiring practices, “and most of all, we’re going to listen and have better dialogue with our current and former student-athletes … we will get better.”

Assistant President for Diversity and Inclusion Doris Houston said the department received feedback from about 60 students during a listening session with student-athletes. 

“It will take some time and effort to be able to overcome some of the concerns, but I have no doubt, with my conversations with Larry and some of his leadership, that they’re committed,” she said. 

ISU President Larry Dietz said Anti-Black ISU members and student-athletes want many of the same things, and that the university has in fact been working on the Anti-Black list of demands.

Dietz said he and Houston have been meeting on a regular basis, but they’ll do better at relaying the outcomes of those meetings to key students groups and the broader campus community.

Within days of the initial Oct. 7, 2019, protest, Dietz convened a group of campus leaders to meet with the students. 

“We did agree as a group with President Dietz and student leaders that the first step would be developing, implementing a training plan for the university,” said. Houston “That has occurred through the provost’s office.”

She said Dietz’s cabinet took part in a half-day anti-racism training in February. The next step was to meet in March to establish plans to meet students’ demands.

But Houston said COVID-19 presented a real setback to their progress.

“Well of course a week after that meeting is when we had to move all online, and the same individuals within leadership on our campus that were charged with implementing some of those plans unfortunately had to turn their attention to COVID planning,” she said.

Houston said administrators have held two meetings on the issue since this summer. “Our plan now is to solidify the reporting system,” she said.

Trustee Rocky Donahue said he plans to fulfill Dumas’ request to hold administrators accountable.

“It may be we have to do things differently than we historically do them in higher ed, because they just don’t seem to be moving quickly enough for the students,” he said. “I’m going to hold your feet to the fire on this issue, because it is just that important.”

Trustee Sharon Rossmark agreed. “If the students are impatient waiting since October, imagine how I feel looking at some of these items and going, 'This is decades in the making for me.'”

Athletics update

Lyons said ISU is waiting for the Division 1 Council to announce championship dates at its Wednesday meeting. That will allow the university to announce the start of its football, winter and spring sports seasons. 

He said he expects the football season to begin in early- to mid-January, with games beginning in mid-February and culminating in a championship in May. A shortened, nonconference basketball season is expected to begin around Thanksgiving and end in a tournament in late March or early April.

As for fan attendance at the games, Lyons said the university will continue to follow Restore Illinois guidelines.

Lyons said the department also is following all NCAA protocols on testing of athletes, with surveillance testing completed on half of all teams every two weeks. That will increase to every week once official practice periods begin, he said.

After seeing a surge in infections at the start of the semester, which led to the suspension of all activities for five campus sports, “right now we’re in good shape,” Lyons said. “We’re pretty intensive about our isolation, our quarantines. We’re even doing some shelter in place.”

He said there are “very few” positive cases among student-athletes currently, noting, “Everyone who is healthy is practicing.”

Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.
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