Editorial: SGA let Black students down


Isaac Trusty

A large stamp and ink pad sit on a desk beside a stack of papers labeled as Student Government Association documents and stamped with the words “try again.” Six SGA senators voted against the second round of voting for the petition, claiming that the petition was too narrow, and they’d rather propose a more broad petition at an undisclosed date. (Isaac Trusty | Northern Star)

During a Feb. 17 meeting, the Student Government Association voted on whether to approve a petition outlining the concerns of Black students at NIU. Instead of approving the petition, SGA senators denied it. 

A petition is the SGA’s highest form of authority and is an official request from the SGA to NIU for policy change.

This petition had passed the first round of voting during a Feb. 3 SGA meeting and was met with little resistance. During this second and final round of voting, senators proceeded to debate and justify the petition once it started to look real and had a chance of passing. 

SGA voted 8-6 on the petition, meaning it didn’t meet the two-thirds majority required to pass. Six senators decided that the concerns of Black students on this campus weren’t enough to pass a petition that could cause some real change. 

In 2020, during the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, NIU painted “Black Lives Matter” on Castle Drive and held talks with professors and experts regarding race, policing and more. 

After the 2020-2021 school year, it seemed like all of that action was just an act. The university let the mural fade, there were no more lectures about race and policing held and Black students were left seeing something they’ve seen way too often: performative activism. 

Performative activism was one of the charges addressed in the petition along with the over-policing of Black events and having an administration that is neither diverse nor accurately reflective of the student body. 

The latter is an increasing concern as NIU has seen the departure of Anne Edwards, former director of the Center of Black Studies, and this summer will see Vernese Edghill-Walden leave her position as vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion. 

During that Feb. 17 SGA meeting, senators went back and forth, debating whether the petition should be approved. 

Senator Emmanuel Corpuz questioned why the petition only focused on Black students and not other minority groups; meanwhile, Senator Alexia Musgraves tried to defend it.

“​​You guys just don’t understand what we (Black students) go through every single day,” Musgraves said.

All minority groups should be included in the conversation. The petition would have served as a blueprint for other ethnicities on campus. Saying Black students need and deserve this petition isn’t the equivalent of saying other communities don’t deserve the same. Black students need and deserve to be the focus of their own petition. 

According to a study that surveyed roughly 750 Black students and was supported by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, students who had frequent discriminatory experiences were more likely to have symptoms of depression. The same was said of students who experienced a lack of help from their institution. 

We don’t want that to happen here. College is a time to learn, have fun, grow and so much more. Students don’t expect to experience racism while on campus; but if they do, they should know they’ll be supported by the university.

SGA senators spoke to members of Black organizations on campus to get insight into what concerns should be included in the petition. Senators went through the effort to speak with Black students, but then failed to follow through. Now, Black students are left with disappointment. Black students can’t feel supported when a petition recognizing their concerns can’t even get passed by the SGA, the supposed voice of the students. 

SGA, are you the voice for all students or just yourselves? 

If you want to be the voice for all students, we suggest you rewrite the petition and propose it again. Listen to your fellow senators, and listen to the Black students on this campus. Then, finalize and approve the petition and send it to Lisa Freeman’s desk, knowing that you did everything you could to represent the student body. 

Start with Black students first as they deserve to feel seen, heard and safe on campus. And once this new petition is passed, you can move on to other petitions. It might be a long battle, but if you truly care, you’ll suit up for it.