Chancellor urges students to join racial conversation, plans for more inclusive future

Chancellor urges students to join racial conversation, plans for more inclusive future

By Anna Spoerre, @annaspoerre

Interim Chancellor Brad Colwell sent an email Friday to students, faculty and staff concerning recent racist issues reported on campus.

Colwell said the recent events tell of a need to have what he called “a critically important conversation about race and inclusivity on campus.”

In a Facebook video shared Monday, Leilani Bartlett, a freshman from Chicago studying business, said she experienced racial comments in her residence hall, Brown hall.


In the 3-miunute 26-second video, Bartlett, who is from Chicago and studies business, said racial slurs were used against her and she was told to “go back to Africa” by white students who live in her dormitory. The video has gained nearly 150,000 views and more than 5,200 shares on Facebook as of Sunday evening. 

In response, Colwell sent out a first email Thursday, saying the university is investigating racial issues, but wasn’t specific whether it concerned Bartlett.

In the most recent email, he said the university is taking the situation seriously but cannot release details of the investigation for the sake of the privacy of those involved.

Colwell said the campus community must make sure everyone at the university feels welcome.

“This is a conversation that is happening on campuses across the country, because the issues we face are not isolated to SIU,” he said.

The chancellor urged the students and employees to contact the Office of Diversity and Equity if they notice SIU’s discrimination policy — “all students, faculty, staff and guests should be able to enjoy and work in an educational environment free from discrimination and harassment” — is being violated.

Bartlett said the racist comments came while students were discussing their support for Donald Trump, a Republican candidate for U.S. president. Because of Trump’s views on illegal immigrants, who he called murderers and rapists in a June interview, and civil rights investigations into his housing properties, some students on campus associate support for the businessman with racism.


After on-campus chalking in favor of Trump appeared, students have taken to social media to discuss the controversial candidate.

Bartlett said in the video that she has no issue with people having their own political views, but the students in her dorm were outright racist in their speech.

“You’re not going to make me feel uncomfortable at a school I pay $22,000 to go to,” Bartlett said. “I went down there and I confronted all of them. Y’all want to have an open discussion and an open forum about black people? Let me pull up a seat.”

In the meantime, Colwell said while the university has taken action to improve the campus’ diverse campus climate, it must do more.

Colwell said staff in the Center for Inclusive Excellence and the Office of Diversity and Equity are developing ways to increase conversations pertaining to the importance of valuing and respecting diversity.

MORE: Here’s how students, the community is reacting to Facebook video detailing on-campus racism

The Office of Diversity and Equity has also been asked to conduct a campus climate survey in the fall, he said.

Colwell said he recently had a conversation with members of the Black Faculty and Staff Council to discuss ideas moving forward that included mandatory training for search committee members, a campus diversity plan and the creation of an advisory diversity council.

“I urge everyone to be a part of this important conversation — a conversation that requires listening as well as contributing, respect and civility, and a commitment to fulfilling our historic mission as a university committed to diversity and inclusion,” he said.

Anna Spoerre can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.