NORMAL — Top Illinois State University administrators, responding to concerns raised by black students about racism on campus said Wednesday the university must do better.
About 75 people attended Wednesday night's Academic Senate meeting, where the first hour was devoted to public comments and questions from senate members directed at President Larry Dietz and Vice President of Student Affairs Levester Johnson.
Among concerns raised were how complaints about racist remarks and hate speech are handled, problems with housing, treatment of black students by ISU police and a lack of culturally appropriate programming to meet students' needs.
The problems led to a flood of tweets on social media using the hashtag “AntiBlackISU” and a march on campus Monday that attracted more than 260 people. That was followed by a gathering Monday night at which students talked about the bad experiences they have had.
Johnson said, “This is tough because it is indeed a dark time, a dark week for ISU.”
He said, “We do want to support you. .. We have to do better and we will do better.”
Dietz also said, “We will work to do better” and said there will be a meeting next week involving him, other administrators and concerned student groups.
After a student asked him to denounce racism, Dietz said, “I denounce racism. That's an easy thing to say and a very difficult thing to do in a large and complex institution.”
He said racism shouldn't be part of the university or society, “but unfortunately it is” and a college campus is “a microcosm of society.”
Student Body President Samiat Solebo said the negative experiences some black students have had “will stick with us the rest of our lives. … I was called the N-word in my first week here at ISU.”
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Student Danielle Agbonifo said complaints about instances of racism in housing, sometimes by roommates, are ignored and she can't feel safe.
Student Zaria Heath, a member of the Academic Senate, said, “As a student, I've faced racism at Watterson Towers.” She said more training is needed for staff, including resident assistants, to know how to handle such problems. She said there also needs to be a shorter time frame for handling such disputes.
Ashley Dumas, president of the Black Homecoming Committee, said, “This is about anti-blackness at this institution. … I want to see action, not another email sent out to silence us,” referring to an email sent by Dietz to students, faculty and staff on Tuesday.
In that email, Dietz said, “It troubles me deeply when Illinois State is characterized as not upholding its values of diversity and inclusion ...” He promised to take concerns seriously.
But a reference to what he called inaccuracies in describing what led to a Black Homecoming Committee event not taking place triggered criticism about the letter.
Student Kiana McClellan, a senate member called Dietz's email “a slap in the face.”
Dietz said it was not his intent to offend anyone and apologized “if I offended anyone.”
McClellan cited many complaints of racism and other concerns included in a 2016 Campus Climate Assessment and said the same problems continue to exist.
Dietz said, “I think we've made progress since 2016,” citing progress in developing a multicultural center, one of the recommendations that grew out of the 2016 report.
He and Johnson said there is still work to be done and Johnson said, “It will not happen overnight.”