While Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s chancellor was giving a speech on the university’s challenges and accomplishments on Thursday, some students and faculty members were silently protesting recent acts of racism on campus.
A crowd of people marched through the library, the student center, where Chancellor Randy Pembrook spoke, and the administration building.
SIUE student Derric Roberts is the president of the Black Student Union, which he said partnered with other student groups to organize Thursday’s demonstration. He said it was unintentional that it took place the same day as the chancellor’s annual state of the university address.
Roberts said the goal was to show support for minority students after a note with a racial slur was left on a black student’s on-campus apartment door and after a Confederate flag was painted on a boulder in the quad. On Thursday, #BLM was spraypainted on the boulder, likely in reference to Black Lives Matter.
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“One thing that we do not want is students to come here and feel like they’re unwanted and unwelcome,” Roberts said. “... I’ve been in the area for about four or five years now, and I think recently, this is the first time I actually felt like I was unwelcome on campus.”
The march ended with students leaving messages at the administration building, according to Roberts.
“What it said was, ‘African American students deserve fairness and respect on the campus of SIUE,’ and we all signed those, and we personally left those on the desk of the vice chancellor of student affairs and the chancellor,” he said.
Pembrook touched on the issue in his state of the university address on Thursday.
“I’ve sent out some messages about that,” he told the audience in the Meridian Ballroom. “I think we’re dealing with that, taking it on head-on.”
Also on Thursday, the university sent an email to students and faculty offering a semester of free tuition and fees for information leading to the arrest of whoever left the note. SIUE Police has been investigating the incident.
The administration also created a “response team,” which Pembrook said will be able to act more quickly in the future, developed training for counselors and advisers and established a 24-hour hotline through which students can get immediate help.
He also announced a new “sustained dialogue” program in his speech.
“We’re going to start a group that meets — and sometimes maybe it’ll be five people show up, sometimes it’ll be 20 — we’re gonna have ongoing dialogue every other week and just talk about the things that we’re feeling, the things that are going on on-campus.”
The first informal conversation is scheduled for noon Friday in the Morris University Center, according to Pembrook.
“I hope that you’ll be a part of that,” he told the audience.
In his speech, Pembrook expressed support for another recent demonstration in response to the racist note that was found.
The women’s studies department and students organized the Door Project on Wednesday. They invited the campus community to write messages of tolerance and anti-racism on a door they propped up in the quad.
People wrote things like “Resist.” “White silence is violence” and “We have more similarities than differences.”
Roberts said people of all backgrounds showed up for Thursday’s silent protest.
“I was kind of emotional. I had a few tears in my eyes because we had a great turnout, and we just planned this last night,” he said.
What’s new at SIUE?
Chancellor Randy Pembrook announced what lies ahead for the college in his 2017 state of the university address, including:
- New online program: Master of science in criminal justice
- Undergraduate out-of-state tuition policy: For the first time this fall, prospective students from all 50 states were eligible for the in-state tuition rate.
Looking back on 2016-17
The chancellor highlighted several accomplishments from the previous school year in his speech, including:
- 14,142 enrollment for fall 2016 (third highest in SIUE history)
- 1,700 students enrolled for winter 2017 (70 percent increase in the new three-week term of online classes)
- 23.4 average ACT for freshman class