Dear Interim Chancellor Wilson, Interim Vice Chancellor Feser, and Vice Chancellor Romano,
Today, November 18, 2015, marked the National Day of Action, #StudentBlackOut, in which Black students organized dozens of actions on university and college campuses throughout the US and in Canada. Black University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) students joined this national call to action, organizing a “Black Student Solidarity Rally” that took place on the main quad today at noon. In response, an “Illini White Student Union” Facebook page was created and self-described as, “A new page for white students of University of Illinois students to be able to form a community and discuss our own issues as well as be able to organize against the terrorism we have been facing from Black Lives Matter activists on campus.” The second post stated, “We can also set up a private facebook group if you guys wish.” The third, and most alarming, post stated, “Feel free to send in pictures you take of any black protestors on the quad so we know who antiwhites are.” In addition to sharing a couple of sources “devoted to fighting antiwhite racism,” the Illini White Student Union went so far as to post a screenshot of a Black woman UIUC student’s facebook page, including her full name and profile picture, along with her Facebook post that speaks out against the Illini White Student Union’s page.
We are concerned by this threat to her life and other actions they plan to “organize against” the Black Lives Matter activists on campus whom they have labeled as ‘antiwhite’.
#BlackLivesMatter is not antiwhite but rather as Alicia Garza states, it is “an affirmation of the humanity of Black people and an homage to our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” Clearly stated, Black Lives Matter is an address to anti-Black racism and state-sanctioned violence against our communities. Much like the FBI, DHS, and local police forces, actions like Illini White Student Union are acts of surveillance and intimidation. As Garza writes elsewhere, “The surveillance serves not only to keep tabs on activists, but also to deter them from pushing forward. Surveillance is a tool of fear. It is a tactic to reinforce white supremacy.” We believe it is not only irresponsible but, more importantly, it reinscribes anti-Black sentiments and sensibilities to dismiss such behavior as merely “offensive, divisive and stunningly narrow-minded expressions” as Renee Romano, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, did in her response earlier this afternoon to UIUC Black student, faculty, and alumni concerns over Illini White Student Union’s social media postings.
As you state in your mass email sent to the campus community on November 16, 2015,
“Universities like ours must be places where all are respected, where everyone believes their voice will be heard, and where views may be freely and safely expressed and debated. This year, events on campuses across the nation have called attention once again to the fact that much work still needs to be done to meet those standards. As your Chancellor, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, we want you to know that we are committed to doing that work here.”
standingwithheR, too, recognizes that “much work still needs to be done” and in so doing we request an immediate meeting with UIUC administrators, specifically the authors of the email sent on November 16th along with Chancellor/Associate Provost Menah Pratt-Clarke, who oversees the the Office of Diversity Equity and Access, to address the continued anti-Black racism and threats against Black lives on campus. The recent serious threats at Mizzou and the student protests at places like Yale attest to the fact that anti-Blackness is alive and well on academic campuses across the nation. As the racist behaviors today on Facebook indicate, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus is no exception. We know this specific racism intimately as just this past school year, members of our group were targeted by non-Black faculty for our Black Lives Matter activism against discrimination of Black women faculty at UIUC.
In your email, you state, “It is our responsibility to take what we hear and work with the campus community as a whole—all faculty, students, and staff—to implement changes that will lead to far fewer stories that outrage and many more that inspire.” We are asking you to act on your words. We want to meet and have this discussion. If there was ever a question of the validity of student stories that you have heard, today’s creation of the Illini White Student Union’s Facebook page and the threatening language and posts it hosts, provide just one pressing example that Black students at UIUC are at risk. Anti-Blackness is actively happening at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, it is a not a thing of the past.
You also remark, “We also heard stories that angered and disappointed us. We understand that students who experience instances of racism and discrimination find it difficult to consider our campus community as their home.” We must ask, how are Black students expected to take seriously University administrators’ disappointment and stated understanding, to “consider our campus community as their home,” when we receive a response from Associate Chancellor Renee Romano of Academic Student Affairs regarding the Illini White Student Union that dismisses such blatant anti-Blackness and racial terror on campus? She writes, “Posts and pages such as these stand in complete opposition to the values of mutual respect and community that define the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.” Romano then closes her statement by stating, “Just because someone has the power to make a statement does not mean that we should give those words weight or value.”
If university administrators and campus police at the University of Missouri had not acted swiftly and taken seriously threats made on social media against #ConcernedStudent1950, it is possible that we could again be mourning the loss of Black lives to anti-Black terror. Black students do not feel safe on this campus. By not giving serious anti-Black acts of surveillance and intimidation “weight or value” the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is absolutely dismissing legitimate student concerns, is disregarding Black student safety, and is hypocritically speaking against it’s own proclamations that it values the stories and lives of the students who “find it difficult to consider our campus community their home.”
Finally, in your joint “Student Vigil on Campus Climate” email you also note, “In the coming weeks, we will be communicating regularly with the campus about our ongoing initiatives and new actions we are considering. We ask for your continued partnership in this important work.” As concerned members of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign community, today we sincerely reach out to you to partner with you on how to address anti-Black terror now occurring on campus. We eagerly anticipate your response by no later than December 1, 2015 inviting us to meet with you. Please direct all correspondence to reinstateheRuiuc@gmail.com.
standing with heR
standing with heR is a collective of Black University of Illinois students, faculty, accomplices, and community members and a Black Lives Matter project that uses research, litigation, social action, and other forms of advocacy to support Black women and other racially-diverse women and people in holding colleges and universities accountable.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with thanks to standing with heR for their meaningful reflections and significant actions. We also wish to express our gratitude for standing with heR’s enduring spirit, and caring commitment.