After meeting for the first time this week, Illinois State University administrators and the Black Homecoming Committee are moving toward a plan to address alleged antiblackness on campus.
ISU President Larry Dietz addressed issues of antiblackness, which culminated into the #AntiBlackISU movement this month, during a quarterly meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees Friday morning.
Dietz said he and several other university administrators met with student leaders from the Black Homecoming Committee and Student Government Association on Wednesday. Dietz called the meeting productive, saying it “opened the door for honest, sincere communication and understanding.”
“We listened to our students, valued what they shared about their antiblack experiences, and made a commitment to collaboratively work toward addressing the issues that they identified,” he said.
Several BHC members addressed the board prior to Dietz’s comments, repeating calls for the university to take an honest look at how it treats black students compared to the rest of the student body.
“It’s more than just a cancellation of a homecoming event,” said Ashley Dumas. “There are bigger issues that have lived on this campus for far too long. This is nothing new; the university knows this. But it takes a couple of black students to interfere with the university’s good name for something to happen.”
However, Dumas said after initial skepticism about meeting with university administration, she “has an optimistic mindset on what the future of these meetings will unfold, as long as the Black Homecoming Committee receives a well-due apology from the administration.”
They did receive an apology from Dietz for what he said were inaccuracies in his Oct. 8 email. He said following that email, he “learned additional details about the communications associated with the planning of a Black Homecoming Committee event.”
He said he mischaracterized the students and their efforts. “I recognize that the students worked very hard to plan this important event, and were denied that opportunity.”
“Racist acts and expressions are in direct opposition to the university’s core values,” he said. “Acts of bias and prejudice are hurtful to the entire Redbird community and are unacceptable. No student, faculty member, staff member, alumnus or guest should ever be demeaned or feel unwelcome at this university.”
Dietz said the group agreed to meet again in about a month, though the date and time have not been set.
He said both administrators and students in the group are committed to tackling the issues together.
Dietz said one approach the group considered was offering additional sensitivity training for resident advisors and faculty. The group also talked about the need to help students understand what resources are available to them on campus.
Trustees also approved the university’s $479.2 million fiscal year 2020 operating budget, along with its FY 2021 funding requests.
Those include $76.6 million for operating expenses, and $435.4 million for capital expenses, for a 10% increase over the previous year’s request.
“This is a reasonable step to begin to restore our appropriated funds base, and help alleviate the negative impact associated with the limited partial state funding that occured in FY 2016,” Dietz said.
The university requested $403 million for six major capital projects: a new engineering building, Mennonite College of Nursing building, rehab and construction on three College of Education facilities, and renovation of Williams Hall.
Another $32.4 million is requested for capital renewal projects to address deferred maintenance needs across campus.
Connect Transit Contract
ISU trustees also approved a six-month extension of the university’s contract with Connect Transit.
Administrators said that they did not expect to wrap up negotiations with Connect Transit before the current contract extension expires Dec. 31.
“All that we want to do is make sure that our students are not disenfranchised by not having a bus to take them different places, because a lot of our students are dependent upon that to get there,” Dietz said.
The agreement provides bus service to university students, faculty and staff via the Redbird Express route.
The new six-month term is set to expire June 30, 2020, at a cost of no more than $280,000.
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