Daily Egyptian

Column: An account of last week’s occupation

Demonstrators+talk+with+each+other+on+community+Friday%2C+April+6%2C+2018%2C+during+an+occupation+of+SIU+Chancellor+Carlo+Montemagno%27s+office+in+Anthony+Hall.+The+occupation+followed+a+march+through+campus+the+previous+day+in+protest+of+the+proposed+police+academy+at+the+Southern+Illinois+University+Carbondale+campus.+%28Brian+Munoz+%7C+%40BrianMMunoz%29
Demonstrators talk with each other on community Friday, April 6, 2018, during an occupation of SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno's office in Anthony Hall. The occupation followed a march through campus the previous day in protest of the proposed police academy at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus. (Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Demonstrators talk with each other on community Friday, April 6, 2018, during an occupation of SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno's office in Anthony Hall. The occupation followed a march through campus the previous day in protest of the proposed police academy at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus. (Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz)

Brian Munoz

Brian Munoz

Demonstrators talk with each other on community Friday, April 6, 2018, during an occupation of SIU Chancellor Carlo Montemagno's office in Anthony Hall. The occupation followed a march through campus the previous day in protest of the proposed police academy at the Southern Illinois University Carbondale campus. (Brian Munoz | @BrianMMunoz)

By Sam Beard, SIU Student Trustee

As I am sure most of you heard, a group of students occupied the chancellor’s office after he refused to issue a statement that there would be no police academy at SIU.

This 25 hour, overnight occupation was not at all planned but rather organically evolved out of a march that we had announced last week.

All school year long, it appeared as if the chancellor spoke of his dream to see a police training academy on campus as little as possible.

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Yet, only a few hours before our publicly announced march against his proposed cop academy the chancellor broke his streak of silence and in an unprompted fashion told the Graduate Council that he was “tabling” the decision.

What an absolutely shocking coincidence.

That aside, tabling the cop academy seemed to be nothing more than a public relations move on the part of the administration: pass the decision off to another group, put it off to another time, thereby sidestepping the pressure that students and community members have built against the proposal.

The decision making apparatus, (likely a combination of the executive, PR and policing structures of SIU) made a strategic move to allow us to stay in the chancellor’s office “as long as we wanted.”

It really was a slick trick on their end, to allow us to make ourselves at home because, in a sense, it disarmed the movement.

We were no longer practicing non-violent civil disobedience, for our occupation was now sanctioned by the big man himself.

The occupation peeked at what was probably about 35 people, almost all of whom were students, during which time we read aloud Slave Patrols and Civil Servants: A Brief History of Policing in Two Modes and engaged in the much-warranted discussion about what it might look like to restructure the university from below.

As it pressed on, we discussed other student movements around the country that were happening at that very same moment, a #NoCopAcademy battle was being waged in Chicago and students at Howard University in Washington D.C. were carrying out the largest occupation in their institution’s history.

And as night fell, a delivery driver dropped off three pizzas sent by an anonymous professor — knowing that our teachers were proud of our bravery boosted morale as we rejoiced over those hot slices.

On a mobile projector unit we screened the Netflix documentary about mass incarceration called “13th” and were surprised when we realized the campus police who had been sent to babysit were no longer glued to their phones, but rather were engrossed in the film.  

It was when we turned off the lights, unrolled our sleeping bags and fluffed our pillows that many of us realized there would not be a whole lot of shut-eye that night.

Maybe it was the caffeine, maybe it was the absurdity of the whole situation or maybe it was the realization that those cops chaperoning us, those armed babysitters, were only one order away from beating the living hell out of us.

But I couldn’t sleep, probably only got 1 and half hours.

We awoke to administrators stepping over students passed out on the floor, some of whom I had just met the day before. One secretary snapped at us, something about a meeting.

More professors dropped off donuts and coffee, by this time we were overflowing with food sent by those who supported us but couldn’t physically be there.

In my entire life I don’t think I had ever tasted coffee so good, so warm, so rewarding.

But as the afternoon came we decided that our energy was best spent elsewhere, the occupation has run its course, made its statement. So we packed our bags and moved out on our own terms.

One of us even vacuumed the place, leaving Anthony Hall cleaner then we found it, “without a trace” as they say in scouting.

The best part was at the end, and I think this will always crack us up.

Our campus CEO, the chancellor that is, came out with an ear-to-ear smile plastered on his face to offer public appreciation for what we did, thanking us for exercising our right to protest and thanking us, I suppose, for taking over his entire office and refusing to leave.

He concluded by asking us to take a selfie with him for SIU’s Twitter so he can “show his support” for these students who were literally protesting him and his policies.

I said with an equally forced smile “We would ABSOLUTELY LOVE to take a picture with you after you say on camera that there will be no police academy at SIU.”

His seemingly burning desire for that selfie was quickly extinguished.

He refused, saying that all of the sudden he decided that the decision on the cop academy now rests with the faculty in the associated programs, that in the name of “shared governance” he just couldn’t bring himself to assert that sort of authority over academic decisions made by faculty.

It is rather chilling that the chancellor finds it appropriate to use that sort of language when it is precisely the erosion of shared governance that his administration embodies by making unilateral decisions about the future structure of our school.

Since he was hired last year, his administration has hid behind a carefully concocted, smarmy fog of double-speak, language which says one thing but literally means the opposite — destroying the value of words and turning one’s brain into mush in the process. 

Nearly everything the chancellor says seems to be misleading, at best, and so many of us in the SIU community know it.

All in all, we, the students, created a crack in the political life of campus and widened that crack into something that cannot be as easily smoothed-over as the administration would like, regardless of whether or not their official stance is one of appreciation.

Power to the students. Power to the faculty. Power to the people. Restructure from below.

Student Trustee Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at (618) 453-8418. His office is located in the Registered Student Organization Suite on the third floor of the Student Center and his office hours are Mondays and Thursdays: 12:30 pm – 2 pm or by appointment.

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