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WIU diversity official: ‘We’re going to get there’

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Western Illinois University
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One of Western Illinois University’s top officials for diversity said the school is making progress on a list of demands issued by Black students.

“We are working on a number of things pertaining to the list. It just wasn’t communicated to them (the students) because of the change of administration,” said Dr. Sterling Saddler, Assistant to the President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

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Western Illinois University
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Dr. Sterling Saddler

He pointed out President Guiyou Huang just completed his first year in office and is still getting the feel of the community.

Saddler said he believes progress started with Interim President Martin Abraham and is continuing on through Dr. Huang.

“I think these two gentlemen have actually been pretty good in reference to being very aware of some of the problems and issues that students have been having,” Saddler said.

Saddler also credited Macomb Mayor Mike Inman with working to address student concerns.

Members of the Black Student Association have issued demands twice in the past year-and-a-half. The demands include:

  • Rebuild the African American Studies Department and allow students to major in the subject (note: African American Studies, Philosophy, Women’s Studies, and Religious Studies were eliminated as majors at WIU in 2016 during the administration of Dr. Jack Thomas. All four are still offered as minors)
  • Include WIU’s Black students in the process of hiring teachers for the African American Studies Department
  • Require all WIU students to take two courses in the African American Studies Department: Intro to African American Studies and African American Literature
  • The institution should only support businesses in Macomb that support Black people and the Black Lives Matter movement
  • Hire more professors, staff, and student affairs professionals who are Black and increase the university’s ethnic diversity and racial makeup by 40%
  • Create a separate building for the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, which currently shares the Multicultural Center with several other organizations.
  • Mandate professors to complete diversity training that includes history of the current campus climate at WIU.
  • Create a more inclusive environment for the Black community through a student-centered approach

Saddler acknowledges difficult situations in the past but believes things are changing.
“We are talking, which is more than half the battle. We are trying to make some strides. We’re kind of slow but we’re going to get there,” Saddler said.

He pointed out, for example, Western formed a committee in 2020 to begin the process of establishing or reestablishing major degree programs. He said the committee completed its study last summer and is expected to issue recommendations this spring.

Saddler said his office will continue working on diversity initiatives and creating a more inclusive environment.

“I know there’s been some difficult situations in the past … but I think it’s all about who individuals are and how they were raised and what they’re thinking about. I just think that we’re on the right track,” Saddler said.

In addition, he said he will be involved Western’s Anti-Racism Task Force once it comes together. He said they’re still seeking volunteers to serve on the panel.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.