SIU community discusses issues facing Black students on campus

By Keaton Yates, Staff Reporter

Editor’s note: In the print edition of this story, Chief of SIU’s Department of Public Safety, Benjamin Newman, had not responded to us for comment by publication deadline. Since then he has reached out to us and the story has been updated to include his comments.

Students, faculty and staff are anxiously waiting to see how SIU responds to issues facing Black students. 

Father Joseph Brown, an Africana Studies professor, said the declining number of faculty and staff of color is an issue at SIU. He said while minority student enrollment is increasing, there is no effort to increase the number of faculty and staff of color.

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“The number of faculty is declining at an alarming rate and the different offices where there is direct involvement with students of color, or should be […] we don’t see an increase of staff who are culturally connected or competent,” Brown said.

Brown said resource centers such as the office of diversity, counseling center, financial aid and academic advising are lacking minority faculty and staff and this affects the success of students of color.

Austin Lane, SIU’s new chancellor, plans to meet with students, faculty, and staff to see how SIU can improve.

Lane said as SIU’s new chancellor, he will be learning about SIU’s current state by speaking with students, faculty and staff.

“That’s really our job,” Lane said. “We need to make sure students have that experience and that they remember that experience when they leave and graduate.”

In what Lane calls his listening and learning tour, he will be meeting with student, faculty and staff groups on campus and asking what they love about SIU and what needs improvement, he said.

Tadzia Lee, a junior at SIU, said she hopes SIU can bring people together and ensure students are being exposed to different cultures and ideas.

“Lots of students come from small towns with people that have the same exact views and culture as them,” she said. “They are afraid to be introduced to people that are different from them, which is where I hope SIU comes in.”

To make the community truly inclusive, diversity must be a priority, Brown said.

Lane said the beauty of new leadership is having a new chancellor be able to learn about the state of SIU and to mention things that should be implemented to help students. 

Lane said he and SIU System President Daniel Mahony, are working together with all diversity council representatives across the system to create a task force.

“These will be ongoing conversations that will last a long time,” Lane said. “I’m very committed to making sure this is really part of a strategic plan. It’s a plan that will be developing here, one of the pieces of that plan will be culture, diversity, and inclusion”

Brown said the university leadership is trying its best, but more will have to be done with fewer people.

“I don’t want to say more with less, but the people who are going to be the best for this new issue and these students coming back are the ones who are already overworked,” he said. 

Brown said SIU jumps to an immediate solution and that it will not work this time.

“I don’t want people to tell me, I see you, I understand, and Black Lives Matter, but six months ago you didn’t say that or feel that when I asked about issues or tried to express the hurt and pain I felt,” Brown said. “I’m going to ask you, when you say that, do you realize how you’ve had to change and do you know whether or not that change is just to make me happy or if it’s really down deep inside of you.”

Helping other people adapt will not be effective unless change is carried with us, Brown said. 

“We can train in civil rights, but we have to be able to adapt it to our community. We have to be able to respond, to effectively serve students, faculty, and staff, various social and economic backgrounds,” Newman said.

The Black Lives Matter movement reminds Brown of past movements he’s witnessed.

“Protests today build on those from the past,” Brown said. “ I get a little tired of people in the media who have never taken a real history class in American history that’s been accurate.”

People are saying that the protests today are different from the 1960s but Brown said they are not different from the 1860s.

When students come back to campus after protesting for radical systemic change, they are going to want to know what SIU is doing differently, Brown said.

Lee said she hopes SIU does not try to stop peaceful protests and that they find a way to educate everyone. 

“I just hope they are supportive and continue to prove that they are working to make a change,” Lee said.

Lee said protesting is important in Carbondale because it will educate people who come from smaller towns.

“I know it will probably cause tension which will be interesting,” Lee said. “Tension allows people to show their true colors so it will be interesting to see who stands where during the protests.”

Brown said Carbondale is displaying real, beautiful, moments because of protests.

“This movement is organized by and completely energized by young people, but all of these movements have been that way,” Brown said.

The Daily Egyptian contacted campus police to get their perspective on what SIU can do to better serve and protect Black students.

Benjamin Newman, Chief of SIU’s Department of Public Safety, said the police department has an active outreach program to keep students safe.

“We believe in respect, I teach every new officer that starts with us to treat everyone with kindness, compassion, and courtesy,” he said. “We’re going to hold people accountable for their actions, but we’re also going to foster positive relationships.”

The police want to keep everyone safe while also fostering freedom of speech and expression, Newman said.

“I believe individuals have the right to freedom of speech as it’s protected by the Constitution. I support the Black Lives Matter movement,” Newman said.

Staff reporter Keaton Yates can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @keatsians.

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