Open forum held to discuss racism on campus

Devon Greene, editor-in-chief

The Division of Student Services and the University Counseling Center held a forum in response to a racist note that was left in the Currens computer lab on Tuesday.

Western Illinois University was just the focus of an article written by The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Fear of a Black Campus,” on Nov. 1. Just 11 days later, a sign was left in the Currens computer lab that read “Whites Only.”

Western Illinois Interim President Martin Abraham sent out a call to action last month, putting a focus on the need for diversity and inclusion at Western and he did the same today with a letter via email to the university that was titled “Hate Has No Home at WIU.”

“I write this letter to remind our campus community that hate has no home at Western Illinois University,” Abraham said. “Prejudice, bigotry and harassment are not tolerated and have no place here. We value diversity and we expect members of the University and local community to act in a civil and respectful manner. When individuals and/or groups become the focus of derogatory comments or acts based on prejudice, it is crucial that we immediately respond and affirm our institution’s principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The open forum began with a statement speaking out against the note.

“Those racist remarks are not tolerated by this university. We do not accept them,” a source said.

The same source said that the focus of the forum was to let students get their feelings out in the open and said that the recent times at Western have been the most turbulent in recent memory.

“This semester has been a turmoil, unlike any semester that I’ve been at the University of 15 years,” the source said. “It’s been very challenging, I talked with lots of students and students have been accepting of behaviors that have gone on around them that they should never have to experience.”

Abraham was unable to attend the forum but he had a statement read to make his stance known.

“This incident, combined with recent reporting on the challenges that we experienced this past year, reminds us that we still have a great deal of work to do,” the statement read. “I’ve asked everyone to come together as we work through the issues and develop a more inclusive climate on our campus.”

After Abraham’s statement was read, it was announced that the investigation on who wrote the note is still ongoing and the computer lab has been locked and isolated.

A faculty staff member came up to speak next and made clear the status of the university.

“What I want to mention is, I cannot guarantee a safe space,” the faculty member said. “Sometimes we use that word a lot, and oftentimes we can’t deliver and so what I can tell you is that we’re going to create a brave face. We’re going to have a difficult conversation, we’re going to hear your comments and hear your concerns. And while we know that that could potentially be triggering and potentially bring back a lot of memories, we want to let you know that representatives from the Counseling Center are here and it will be talking to you all in just a bit.”

Students came up to speak next and tried to figure out where the paper could’ve been printed, said there was nothing funny about the note and said they were “very, very angry.” They also said that the university should take “some strong action in the coming days following this,” and said that they have felt growing discomfort with the atmosphere around campus.

“It’s a shame because as I’m starting to finish college, I’m not comfortable with a place where I’m supposed to be safe. It’s always been a safe haven for me,” the student said.

Another faculty member came up and said that they feel the Multicultural Center and University Diversity Council is working better than it ever has before.

“One of the differences now of this university Diversity Council is that it’s going to report directly to the president versus being a support advisory group to the director of the Equal Opportunity and Access Office,” the faculty member said. “And so that is one very tangible way that I see progress because we do have a university Diversity Council that is reporting directly to the president on matters of racial climate diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Another student was up next and he brought up the alleged racism that is in Macomb.

“I think that we need to understand that Macomb has racism embedded in their DNA. It’s been there for a long long time,” the student said.

The person who found the note was up to speak next and expressed their fear over finding the note and what it means about campus life.

Another member of the faculty came to speak next and spoke about orientation and recruiting. They said they have been in Chicago talking to prospective students but has experienced some hesitance when promoting the university.

“Am I supposed to lie to them and say ‘Yes I feel safe on campus.’ but then we have things like this pop up?” the faculty member said.

They also said that they wanted to see some policy changes to improve the climate around campus.

Another source said that their son expressed some doubts about Western because of the racial situations that have been hovering around the university for the last few years.

The forum closed with discussions about organizations and groups around campus and what they can do to increase diversity, representation and acceptance around campus.