Students protest cuts to Africana Studies


A banner stating “don’t cut Africana Studies” sits outside the Student Center Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. Students and alumni gathered outside the Student Center to protest the removal of the Africana Studies program from SIU. Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

By Amelia Blakely

About 25 students and recent graduates marched through campus Tuesday to protest the administration’s decision to cut the Africana Studies program.

“Keep Africana Studies! Meet us outside!” rang through the Student Center as demonstrators rallied inside the building before taking the march to Anthony Hall, where the chancellor’s office is housed. 

The undergraduate degree program is on the chopping block following Board of Trustees approval of the “Financial Stability Plan” in July. This plan would cut about $26 million from the university, including seven degree programs. The bachelor’s in Africana Studies is one of these.


The decision to cut programs was “based on a significant history of low enrollment and substantially weaker comparative performance on other metrics,” according to the plan.

For students marching, the Africana Studies program is still critically important to SIU. 

“People really, really need to know more about the culture and how we became what we are,” said Kentrell Mason, a junior from Matteson studying computer science. “I understand why they’re doing it to save money, but people need to know about this still.”

Malik Harris, a senior studying workforce education development from Chicago, said his experience taking Africana Studies classes has been invaluable.

“These prospects are not just for African Americans, they’re for everyone,” Harris said. “Africa is the motherland — we all come from that one place.”

Harris said the administration’s decision to cut the program shows it aren’t listening to what students want.

“Students told them we want to be more inclusive than exclusive,” Harris said. “I just hope SIU starts looking to their students more and starts listening to their population and what they want to do instead of doing what they want to do.”


Some students spoke on the importance of Africana Studies for students of all races, not just African American students.

“It helps combat ignorance on privilege … certain white students get to have,” said marcher Jae Schmidt, a senior studying from St. Joseph studying psychology. “Overall, I wouldn’t have learned anything just staying in my small town that I have [learned] studying Africana Studies here.”

Schmidt acknowledged the low enrollment of the degree program, and said it could stem from a lack of awareness about the department.

“I know there are a lot of students who don’t even know that we have one,” Schmidt said.

She said awareness could be low because Africana Studies classes aren’t advertised or pushed by advisers.

The march ended in front of Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s office.

Student Trustee Sam Beard, a senior from Naperville studying philosophy, said he did not organize the protest but added that recent events make keeping Africana Studies even more crucial.

“In today’s world where white supremacists and Nazis are freely walking through the streets, we need education,” Beard said, referencing the recent white nationalist rallies that have been taking place in Charlottesville, Virginia and elsewhere. “We need to be investing in this department, not cutting it.”

The group of demonstrators solicited the chancellor to issue a press release assuring that the Africana Studies program not be cut by Friday.

Responding to the protest Tuesday night, Graduate and Professional Student Council President Johnathan Flowers said although the protestors’ intentions were good, the plans to march were not communicated to the Africana Studies department and should have been.

“If you’re not speaking to the people you claim to be standing with, then you’re acting simply out of your own desire to be a good person,” Flowers said. “It must be with the consent of the department that we act.”

He added that he and Undergraduate Student Government President Joshua Bowens should have also been contacted about the protest, as the heads of the two governmental groups representing the student body.

“Demonstrations only work — at least in higher education — if there is someone involved who is in the room to advocate for students to the administration,” Flowers said.

Campus editor Marnie Leonard contributed reporting. 

Staff writer Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected].

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