Students discuss NIU race issues

By Leah Nicolini

Ariel Owens, Student Association director of Public Affairs, stopped participating in class after she said her English teacher asked her to comment on a poem on behalf of her entire race.

Instances of on-campus racism, like the one Owens said she experienced, were addressed in an open discussion with 50 members of the NIU community Wednesday. Miki Grace, SA director of Student Life, and SA President Nathan Lupstein hosted the event after being inspired by the protests at the University of Missouri, where students are demonstrating to bring attention to on-campus racism against black students. The three-month protest has resulted in the university president’s resignation.

Grace and Lupstein said the discussion is necessary at NIU because the it is not excluded from acts of racism.

“Race is still an issue on the NIU campus,” Lupstein said. “It’s important we have this dialogue. We have the opportunity to understand each other.”

Tondi Bailey, senior political science major, said when she and 100 other students marched down Greek Row after the 2014 Michael Brown shooting, she heard peers chanting racial slurs and provocative phrases such as “Mike Brown should have died.”

“These are people I see in class,” Bailey said. “To know that my classmates were saying that type of thing, I felt disturbed by it. I didn’t feel comfortable. Now I don’t feel comfortable on campus or on Greek Row.”

Bailey said she filed a police report, and no further action was taken, but believed Wednesday’s event will lead to change because of NIU President Doug Baker being in attendance.

“Every time I’ve been a part of a conversation like this, it’s only been like two or three higher-up people. But to have the university president and other employees, that shows a lot,” Bailey said.

Racism on campus can be subtle, said Darien Rodgers, senior health and human sciences major. Neptune residence halls, or ‘The Tune,’ has a low-income, ghetto stigma while New Residence Hall East and West and Gilbert Hall appear to be for the upper class, Rogers said.

Events on campus such as the annual block party do not engage and represent all students, Rogers said.

“The block party was straight hip-hop. Not like the happy, fun hip-hop everyone likes; it’s that selective hip-hop,” Rogers said. “At the beginning, [everyone is] happy, then once that music starts, the black people get hype and the white people are like ‘Uh, let’s leave.’”

There is a lack of preparation for dealing with issues like racism, said Faculty Senate President Greg Long.

“I recognize that I’m among the privileged class: I’m white, male and have a [doctorate],” Long said. “My entire career is focused on social justice and accessibility. My frustration is that as a faculty member, we don’t have the background, training and knowledge to understand how to deal with racism.”

NIU has conducted surveys to measure how students feel about campus inclusion and their experiences on campus and has also opened dialogue and been more present at events like this, Baker said.

“We are going to continue to have these meetings,” Grace said. “We’re asking that students join.”