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Black WIU Students Say They Matter

Rich Egger
Demonstrators marching down Carroll St on their way to Chandler Park

Black students at Western Illinois University say they deserve better treatment from the institution and the city of Macomb. They have issued a list of demands for the university.

The list was unveiled during a rally in which demonstrators marched from the center of campus to Chandler Park in the center of town. A couple hundred people – mostly students -- took part.

Shakyria Bailey, Vice President of the WIU Black Student Association, helped organize the demonstration. She said she’s surprised by how blatant racism can be in Macomb.

“It’s sad that they would continue to be ignorant in such an age now where the information is there and they know that this is not okay because it’s everywhere.” Bailey said.

Students said they have witnessed too much racism on campus, including micro-aggressions from teachers and others.  On the steps of Sherman Hall, they issued a list of demands for WIU:

  • 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 in 2016 at WIU 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
  • Modify the Code of Conduct to include a policy to end hate speech; it would be defined as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence toward a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation”; violators would face suspension and expulsion
  • The institution should only support businesses in Macomb that support Black people and Black Lives Matter
  • Hire more professors, staff, and student affairs professionals who are Black and increase the university’s ethnic diversity and racial makeup by 100%
  • More programming for Black students created by the University Union Board
  • Hire more Black officers for the Office of Campus Safety
  • Prioritize diversity training for Housing and Dining Services and expand it to include the history of the current campus climate at WIU
  • Mandate teachers take diversity training that includes the history of the current campus climate at WIU
  • Accept accountability for and address anti-Blackness on campus, and create more inclusive environments for the Black community through a student-centric approach

More than 20 organizations signed onto the list of demands, including the Black Student Association, the NAACP, and the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center.
Bailey said there were already plans to hold a demonstration in response to the murder of George Floyd and other violence directed at Blacks in the U.S. this summer. Then, shortly after the school year began, a former WIU student posted racist comments online (read the university’s response here), and the community held a Blue Lives Matter demonstration. 

“It’s crazy that they would do that (hold the Blue Lives Matter rally) as soon as students moved in. It’s telling us they don’t want us here,” she said.

Bailey said during her life she has been subjected to racism, discrimination, and hate just because of the color of her skin. She said Blue Lives Matter irked her because police choose that career and know it comes with certain challenges.

“Black Lives Matter is not just a movement. It’s literally that we matter,” Bailey said.

During the demonstration at the park, students spent around an hour sharing stories of racism they have encountered in Macomb. They include people yelling racial slurs at them and being followed while they shop in the community’s stores.

Students said Macomb would be nothing without the university and its students.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  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.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.