In light of the lawsuit filed Monday regarding allegations of racial harassment of black employees by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, the members of the Illinois Student Government fully condemn the actions of the accused harassers. We stand in solidarity with the plaintiffs and all Black employees in the University system.
Plaintiffs stated that “racial harassment is U of I’s ‘standard operating procedure,’ and Black employees were subject to threats of racial violence including “nooses, swastikas, KKK garb, racist graffiti, and Confederate flags.” In addition, U of I staff are alleged to have “frequently use[d] racial slurs and offensive stereotypes, calling black employees the n-word...and using other offensive racial language.” Such allegations are especially heinous in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has worked tirelessly to campaign against the institutional violence and systemic racism that lurks within the foundations of our government, judicial system, and higher-education institutions.
The aforementioned instances of racism both overt and covert are symptomatic of the systematic racism that permeates our society and campus. With Black History Month on the horizon, we must prioritize and celebrate the revolutionaries, abolitionists, and activists that shaped our nation, the vibrant history, and culture of the black community, and take action to combat institutional racism at all levels. The fact that this lawsuit even exists indicates an extensive, structural problem in University of Illinois policies which must be addressed by the administration immediately.
We urge the University to re-examine its non-discrimination policy in order to close the loopholes that have allowed such actions to go unpunished. This is one of several claims that campus policies obstruct justice by setting “too high a bar to constitute a violation”. In the recent sexual harassment case regarding former University professor Jay Kesan, this exact phrasing was used by the University as justification for the lack of disciplinary action taken against the professor. The Illinois Student Government and the student body will not accept the absence of responsiveness or processes to mediate these issues of campus and national priority.
Additionally, we urge the University to conduct an internal investigation of the Office for Access and Equity (formerly the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Access) and the department responsible for investigating claims of discrimination for its failure to respond appropriately to such allegations. What has emerged after these repeated cases is a pattern of negligence whose responsibility lies within University Leadership. Serious steps need to be taken on the part of Chancellor Robert Jones, Office of Access and Equity Director Heidi Johnson, as well as Senior Associate Chancellor for Human Resources Elyne Cole. These recurring instances of harassment, discrimination, and intolerance are atrocious, and action must be taken to ensure similar cases do not occur again.
Walter Lindwall, Student Body President
Alice Zheng, Student Body Vice President