Daily Egyptian

Minorities at SIU feel ‘accepted, but not welcomed’

Leilani Bartlett, middle with papers, a freshman from Chicago studying business, leads a march April 12 from Brown Hall to Morris Library. Bartlett, who organized the event, posted a video to Facebook on April 4 expressing her concerns about racism she said she has experienced at SIU. Her video received over 161,000 views. Matthew Wilson, a senior from Carbondale studying TV and digital media radio, participated in the event. "Honestly, I was heartbroken for Leilani," Wilson said. "But I was not surprised because this has been occurring and reoccurring and nothing has happened. So the fact that we are even out here today is sad. Because why should we be out here dealing with these issues when they should have already been solved in the first place." — April 12, 2016, Carbondale, Ill. (Jacob Wiegand | @jawiegandphoto)

By Tierra Carpenter, @TierraMC_

About 100 people gathered at Brown Hall and marched to Morris Library on Tuesday in a demonstration against on-campus racism. 

The demonstration stemmed from an alleged incident of racism that occurred in Brown Hall, which was said to have involved a group of students who were speaking negatively about black people during a discussion about their support for presidential candidate Donald Trump.

During her opening speech, Leilani Bartlett, a freshman from Chicago studying business management, said the segregation of SIUC is recognized by students, faculty and staff, but not administrators. 

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The Rev. Joseph Brown, a professor in Africana studies and vice chairman of the Carbondale Human Relations Commission, said racism is an issue at SIU in many ways. He cited a lack of diversity in SIU’s faculty, administrators and classes.

“We do not have an inclusive, integrated academic community either on the personnel level or in the curriculum,” he said. “If people come to school to learn about the world they live in, they need to be educated into a multicultural world.”

The group walked to the Library chanting phrases such as, “How’s a university take pride in its diversity, but we can’t live here comfortably?” and “Accepted, but not welcomed.”

“Accepted but not welcomed” was also a hashtag demonstrators used on social media. Bartlett said she came up with the phrase because it describes how most minorities feel at SIU.

“We’ve been accepted amongst their requirements, but we feel our university has done nothing to make us feel welcomed,” she said.

Taylor Cross, a sophomore from Chicago studying early childhood education, said she can not relate to the phrase.

“I don’t feel that way, but I do get the message,” said Cross a black woman who has lived in Thompson Point for almost two years. 

During the protest, some students supported the demonstration on the social media app Yik Yak, while others objected. 

“Y’all gotta understand it’s more than black and white. ato said somethings that should offend EVERYBODY the March is for all minority’s black Mexican Muslim Chinese to have a voice,” a user wrote on the anonymous app. 

Other users told the students to “get over” the racism and implied the demonstration was unnecessary.

Cross said she does not think SIU should take the blame for the recent incidents surrounding the demonstration.

“Unfortunately there’s always going to be racist people everywhere, but I don’t feel like the school itself is racist,” Cross said. “By this being a televised thing, you’re giving SIU a bad name because it’s not the school. The school shouldn’t go down because of something that a few whites kid said, because they’re ignorant. If the school is saying, ‘It’s under investigation we’re handling it,’ let the school handle it.”

Bartlett opened the floor to other students who wanted to share their thoughts about racism at SIU.

“I refuse to be another victim of racism that does not speak out,” said Bethany Peppers comptroller for Black Affairs Council.” “I refuse to let my campus, all of our campus be divided. … It is ridiculous that when every student on this campus should be united and attacking the state for a common cause, we have such hatred and division.”

Jordan Catchings, a freshman from Chicago studying business marketing, said he was part of the alleged incident that occurred in Brown Hall.

When he and a friend were leaving his friend’s room on the building’s second floor, they came across the white students during their discussion about Trump.

“We weren’t mad they were saying ‘Trump 2016.’ We just felt as though they were trying to agitate us,” Catchings said.

He said the run-in turned into an argument after the Trump supporters said they were in favor of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

“As minorities we’re supposed to take the high road all the time, but we were just tired of that,” Catchings said. “We just had to put our foot down and let them know we weren’t going to stand for that anymore.”

Catchings said the second-floor resident assistant also got involved in the argument.

“He came up to us,” he said. “We were arguing with him and he was like, ‘What’s the situation?’ and he was trying to act like we were the bad guys in the situation, when really we were just defending basically everybody on this campus by not standing for it.”

Interim Chancellor William Bradley Colwell issued statements via email to students, saying the university is handling the recent events of racism and racial tension on campus.

Despite this, Bartlett said her situation has escalated and the university should have reacted to the incident quicker.

Conversely, Brown said he appreciated how fast the university responded to the situation and that made him hopeful for a resolution. Regardless, he said there is only one way to tackle racism.

“Racism can only be addressed when everyone in this country or on this campus realizes that it affects them. … Every single person in this country is affected by racism, which means that we all have to work on confronting it and changing how we behave. Everybody is responsible. Therefore the campus will change when it becomes not responding to a crisis, but part of our day to day positive engagement on an educational and social level,” he said.

Concluding the demonstration, Bartlett called on the administration to take several steps, including further investigating the incident she experienced, publicly acknowledging similar events so students know if their safety is threatened and including diversity training in new student orientation.

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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