Daily Egyptian

Black alumni announce new fund amid reunion

By Jordan Duncan, @jordanduncanDE

The Black Alumni Group announced a new fund for black students in need Saturday, and was met with cheers from more than 1,000 students.

Tim Tyler, president of the group, announced the BAG Student Emergency Fund before a step show,or a dance involving the use of one’s body as a percussive instrument, amid the group’s biennial reunion held this weekend.

The reunion involved many events including a gala, a step show, a meeting with President Randy Dunn and his administration, a scholarship award ceremony and a school supply drop off for the Eurma C. Hayes Center, the Women’s Center and Hopewell Baptist Church.

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Tyler, of Chicago, said the fund is available for students in good academic standing with a 2.0 GPA in need. 

“If you have a death in the family and can’t get home, we can get you a train ticket,” he said. “If your lights are off, if you have an emergency, we are helping you.”

Kevin Winstead, one of the vice presidents of the group, said the emergency fund is for students dealing with crises, which is important given the economy.

“We don’t have enough conversations about the most at-risk students,” said Winstead, who is getting his doctorate in american studies at University of Maryland. “We don’t even have statistics about how many students are legitimately homeless… we all have a friend who is living on a friend’s couch that becomes a week, a month, a year. That person is homeless.”

Former United States Sen. Roland Burris, class of 1959, was also in present at the reunion. He said he created the Roland Burris Endowment Fund for black students in need from Centralia or Chicago, but is open to more students if none apply.

“There are students living in poverty conditions and we are trying to uplift our whole race of people,” Burris said. “Those of us that have been fortunate enough to get a college education to compete in society in spite of racism, we have to make sure that our pipe line is still there.”

Albert Reed, coordinator for the Black Affairs Council, said the fund was necessary and amazing. He said he looked over the fund before the announcement and gave input to the alumni before it was finalized. He said the original version of the fund with stricter criteria only accepted applicants who are in good standing with the university and have at least a 2.5 GPA, but his input allowed it to be lowered to a 2.0.

“It’s a step to let it be known that there is help available regardless of your situation,” said Reed, a junior from Chicago studying radio and television. “That’s very, very important, especially among African American students.”

President Randy Dunn said he was excited to see alumni group create the fund.

“It’s desperately needed by so many students and this kind of last dollar support has been something we have been challenged to provide across the university for all types of students,” Dunn said. “The fact the [Black Alumni Group] has stepped up to address that on their own accord is very gratifying to see.”

Dunn said the aid the fund provides is the most difficult type to make available, but without that support, an emergency such as loss of a job or car may cause students to leave school.

“The whole goal is to look for a means to keep students in school when these emergency types of things crop up,” Dunn said Sunday at the reunion’s closing breakfast.

Dunn and his administration held a meeting with group where the alumni could voice concerns for black students at the university. Multiple alumni commended Dunn’s honesty.

“His candor was magnificent and the dialogue was productive,” Tyler said. “We had some great takeaways from it. That’s what our alumni come here for.“

Tyler said, among other topics, the group discussed safety, representation and how black males are perceived on and off campus.

The Rev. Joseph Brown, a professor at SIU for 18 years, said he attended the meeting, but was disappointed some critical issues were not addressed, including retention and graduation rates.

“You can interpret any statistic any way you want to, but I don’t see anything to be proud of with a 30 percent graduation rate in black students after six years,” Brown said.

He said in five years, the university has not increased the number of trained and culturally competent advisor staff, an issue which he said Dunn mentioned.

“I’m not saying black even though that is a crisis,” Brown said. “I’m saying culturally competent. Because we are not doing any cultural competency training.”

Dunn said though the percentage of employees of color have remained stable, raw numbers have dwindled and acknowledged the university has an unsatisfactory representation for people of color in decision making positions at the university.

“That’s where we’ve got to work in some more aggressive ways,” Dunn said. “To have better representation of minority groups in those decision making roles.”

Dunn said improving the cultural competency of university staff is not a simple fix but is a continuing process for any large organization. He said hiring people of color in upper-level positions will help students of color come to and stay at SIU as they will be properly represented.

Two scholarships of $2,500 each were awarded to Shatoyria Jangjirawat, a senior from Cairo studying accounting, and Xzavier Lee, a junior from Memphis, Tenn. studying computer science. Twenty other students received $500 book scholarships as well.

The alumni group also brought school supplies to the Eurma C. Hayes Center and the Women’s Center Friday for children who may not be able to get them as easily.

Corene McDaniel, a former city council member and director of the center, said she was excited when she first received contact from the group.

“I got the call months and months ago asking if we would be the recipients of that and I almost fell out of my chair,” McDaniel said. ”It was absolutely wonderful. It’s quite an honor to be singled out to be one of their recipients this year.”

Tyler said the group wanted to help underserved children in Carbondale.

“It’ll help students out, it’ll help the center out,” Tyler said. “It’ll help the teachers because they’ll know the students have supplies so they can focus on the teaching instead of making sure students have supplies.”

The center will also hold a day where children who will attend school soon may receive teeth cleanings, haircuts and the school supplies at 1 p.m. on Aug. 1 at the center.

“The community supports the black alumni reunion,” Tyler said. “So this is the way of showing Carbondale that even though we are going other places we still like to maintain our relationship with the community.”

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