SIUE Women’s Studies Program Statement on White Supremacy and Racism on Campus

The following statement was developed as a group with input from many members of the SIUE Women’s Studies Program, both faculty and students. We join in solidarity with students who have already been working to draw attention to such incidents and to push back against them. If you want to get involved, check out the Solidarity and Activism Starter Kit we developed last year.  

We have chosen not to keep an image of the note mentioned in this Statement as part of the Statement itself, so as to avoid recapitulating the harm it does. There are times when quoting terrible speech only slightly lessens its force. If you want to see that note, you can find it here, but we cannot well support black students, faculty, and staff if we force them to encounter it in the course of reading a message of support.

Monday, September 18, 2017

On Wednesday night, September 13 of 2017, a Black student at SIUE returned to their housing in Cougar Village to find a note on their door reading “filthy (plural n-word).”

For a long time now, Black members of SIUE’s community have suffered racist incidents directed against students, staff, and faculty. Some have been overt, as in the incident several years ago in which a pickup truck driving through campus slowed down next to a group of Black male students so that its occupants could lean out to call them the n-word before it sped away. These overt acts express a belief in the inferiority of Black persons and show that they are actively unwanted.

Other racist incidents are more covert, small acts of disrespect related to race which pile up over time. These include classroom behavior from students and professors such as assumptions about a student’s family status based on their race, assuming that a Black faculty member in her office must be the department secretary, and continual unconcerned mispronunciation of student names that requires the student, faculty or staff member to adjust rather than the speaker.  These acts make it clear that whiteness is seen as the norm, and blackness is seen as outside the norm.

Both overt and covert acts reinforce power structures that maintain white supremacy, and paint Black students, staff, and faculty as at best atypical or foreign and more often as actively unwanted.

The incident of the note on the student’s door is overt and aggressively racist.  Part of its power comes from the fact that this student cannot know which of the many people around them hates them so much. It could be anyone or, rather, it could be anyone who doesn’t speak out against it.

As you can see from the student’s response, they did not believe that SIUE was responding appropriately. Indeed, the initial response was lacking. When the student checked their e-mail Friday morning, their first formal response to racism was an e-mail from the Chancellor about the impending verdict on former police officer Jason Stockley who fatally shot a Black man in St. Louis in 2011. That e-mail, below, urged “peace and understanding” and referred vaguely to the Stockley verdict’s racial implications (“We understand that emotions run deep”) while referencing SIUE’s admirable principles. But who is being urged to be peaceful, and who is supposed to be working to understand whom?

Pembrook response to Lamone incident

The above message is what the student who received that note woke up to Friday morning. It is what the student found as their first formal response from SIUE. Only through the efforts of advocate faculty and staff was the student able to receive a direct response later on Friday to their own issues.

The University has failed to create an atmosphere in which Black students feel safe and welcomed. We have failed to educate the white members of our community on how to be and do better. We have wordsmithed our messages until they are lovely but hollow. SIUE students, staff, and faculty hear that hollowness ringing loud and clear.

We have failed to respond adequately, or at all, to major regional and national incidents that clearly bear on the welfare of our community. This includes the university’s response to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia. The sole response was a single paragraph in SIU President Randy Dunn’s August 23 Message from the President, which is not directed at students. SIUE administration simply did not address the issue for faculty and staff or for students, seeming to see it as irrelevant to our campus despite our own history. Many universities across the nation rightly saw that Charlottesville implicated their own communities and affected their own students. SIUE did not act, nor did Women’s Studies. Silence speaks volumes. SIUE students, staff, and faculty hear that silence loud and clear.

The Women’s Studies Program stands against racism in its covert and overt forms. We stand with this student and the others who have experienced and may continue to experience such treatment. We pledge to be active bystanders when we observe such incidents occurring, and to hold ourselves and each other accountable for our own behaviors.

We call on SIUE to develop clear and compassionate and speedy student-centered responses to incidents of this nature. These responses should trust the testimony of the person who has received such treatment, and should always reach the individual student face to face before any related announcement goes out to the university community. They should be concerned with the student’s welfare rather than the university’s image. This should also be true of university responses to events in our region, the nation, or the world at large. The University should support opportunities for SIUE community members to gather and discuss such events. There is power in naming and the administration should call things what they are, avoiding euphemisms or phrases that will, however unintentionally, minimize what has happened. Racism is racism, not merely intolerance; white supremacy is white supremacy, not merely a failure of respect and dignity for all.

How we conduct ourselves when others do wrong is all that distinguishes us from them. It is our responsibility to respond actively, unambiguously, and compassionately.  When members of our community who are Black are made to feel unsafe or unwelcome, the task before all of us is to create a community that reaches out and that does not push further away.

To make that sheltering and decent community possible, some of us will have to work on ourselves: on our tendency to act in ways that play into the view that whiteness is the norm, and on how we act when we are bystanders to behaviors that reinforce white supremacy. To make that sheltering and decent community possible, the university will have to work on how it responds to these incidents and on the support it provides to Black students, staff, and faculty. To make that sheltering and decent community possible, all members of the SIUE community will have to work to earn the trust of our Black students and colleagues. It is a trust we have not yet earned.

We have work to do. Let’s get to work.

Sincerely,

Alison Reiheld, Philosophy faculty and Director of Women’s Studies

Jill Anderson, English faculty

Kim Carter, Social Work faculty

Matt Sautman, TA, English

Anushiya Ramaswamy, English faculty

Abigail Hall, alumni

Samara Chapple, Sociology graduate student

Megan Arnett, Sociology faculty and SIUE alumni

Kiana Cox, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Michelle Miller, alumni

Katherine Poole-Jones, Art & Design faculty

Mary Sue Love, Department of Managing and Marketing faculty

Justin Yancey, TA, English

Breanne Burton, student

Catherine Seltzer, English faculty

Aimie Pace, alumni

Carole Frick, History faculty

Linda Markowitz, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Cory Willmott, Anthropology faculty

Liz Stygar, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Jill Schreiber, Social Work faculty

Christy Ferguson, English faculty

Emily Truckenbrod, Music faculty

Helena Gurfinkel, English faculty

Jessica Despain, English faculty

Mike Anderson, alumni

Saba Fatima, Philosophy faculty

Jennifer Logue, Educational Leadership faculty

Mariana Solares, Foreign Languages & Literature faculty

Rosalind Evans, Social Work faculty

Laurel Puchner, Educational Leadership faculty

Tricia Oberweis, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Tori Walters, English and Philosophy staff

Valerie Vogrin, English faculty

Nicole Klein, Applied Health faculty

Connie Frey-Spurlock, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

Ekaterina Gorislavsky, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “SIUE Women’s Studies Program Statement on White Supremacy and Racism on Campus

  1. Anonymous

    Horrible. Two racists people tried to run me off the road from campus all the way past Edisons and university police didn’t care one bit.

    • This was wrong, on two fronts. I think that both University and Glen Carbon PDs should have been involved in a case that crosses campus boundaries; that it crosses out of campus doesn’t absolve SIUE PD of responsibility nor does the fact that it crossed jurisdictions mean that those other PDs have no responsibility. I am not an expert on the law here. But ethically, damns should be given at a minimum.

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you for stating this so clearly. We have a lot of work to do!

  3. UPDATE: THIS REPLY WAS SENT TO THE CAMPUS COMMUNITY ON SEPTEMBER 21, 2017.
    ——————–
    Dear Campus Community,

    We are providing an update regarding the steps that we are taking to improve internal responses to racial bias and other forms of injustice. Regarding the racially motivated hate incident in Cougar Village last week, University Police are continuing to investigate the origin and author of the note. When the perpetrator is identified, he or she will be charged with a felony. Neither SIUE nor the Madison County State’s Attorney has any tolerance for hate crimes.

    A reward of a semester’s tuition and fees is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator.

    We are moving forward with planning related to the four points communicated last Friday by our senior leadership team to address any actions that violate our commitment to an inclusive and equitable campus. Specifically, we recognize that we have work to do to improve support and inclusion for African American students at SIUE. This includes:

    · An “immediate response team” is being created for hate and bias on campus. Until that team is formed, any future student incidents should be directly communicated to Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jeffrey Waple, who will provide immediate response and ensure on-site support for students.

    · Student Affairs, in consultation with other divisions, is developing plans for immediate support for students, faculty and staff who are victims of racist, sexist, homophobic, religious discrimination or other forms of oppression, including counseling and advising.

    · We recognize that SIUE must be a safe and inclusive place for students, faculty and staff 24 hours per day/7 days per week. We will work to develop and disseminate a clearer plan for members of our community to access help and support, should these events occur.

    · We will follow-up on these incidents with those involved, including SIUE Police and appropriate SIUE administrators and staff members.

    · We are also instituting updated incident communication protocols to better meet future situations in a timely fashion should they occur.

    We have received many notes and messages of concerns from our entire community. Building trust and nurturing relationships with each member of our community is critical to moving forward. We will work to identify new and better ways to structure opportunities for critical dialogue and learning. As we continue this work, we need you to join us. We look forward to working with members of our community to help lead necessary change as we continue to evolve.

    We are committed to maintaining a safe, secure and inclusive campus environment for all students, faculty and staff.

    Sincerely,

    Randall G. Pembrook, Chancellor
    Denise Cobb, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
    Rich Walker, Vice Chancellor for Administration
    Rachel Stack, Vice Chancellor for University Advancement
    Jeffrey Waple, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
    Venessa Brown, Associate Chancellor for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion

  4. Anonymous

    Those that make racist remarks must remember that four of their fingers are pointing back at them and that majority in itself let’s them know the ignorance with which is inbedded within.

  5. Hi, folks. Just FYI, on Thursday, seemingly in response to the campus discussion on this issue, students and faculty and staff arriving to campus found that the Rock had been painted with “MAGA FREE SPEECH.” What, exactly, do the folks who think this believe we should be free to speak?

    Within a few hours, GSA had painted over it with “Make America Gay Again.”

    Here is an image of the the Rock as of Thursday 9/21/17 at 9:15 am taken by a student who gave permission to share it: https://siuewmst.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/maga-free-speech-9-21-17-915-am.jpg

  6. Pingback: Perspectives on the use of a classroom blackboard to disseminate white supremacist propaganda | SIUE Women's Studies Program

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