Protesters march to Center for Black Studies

By James Krause

DeKALB — Roughly 200 protesters marched Wednesday afternoon in support of the Center for Black Studies following a racial slur being spray-painted on the building last week.

The march and protest was put together by several organizations including the Black Student Union, the NIU chapter of the NAACP and the NIU Black Male Initiative. The march started at 1 p.m. at the Stevenson Towers, going through campus to the Center for Black Studies and concluding around 2:30 p.m.

At the center, several leaders from representative organizations spoke, including Center for Black Studies president Anne Marie Edwards.

“We sincerely appreciate you and we want you to know that we are here,” Edwards said in a speech to those gathered outside of the building. “If you need us, we are here.” 

Devlin Collins, the president of the NIU chapter of NAACP, was one of the organizers and speakers at the event. Collins, a political science major, said seeing the university support for the Center for Black Studies was reassuring. 

“The turnout was fantastic,” Collins said. “We got to really see that the students on campus were behind us.”

Edwards also reiterated to protesters the importance of practicing social distancing and wearing masks for the event. Groups of protesters were split into groups that maxed out at 50 people each.

“We have to start taking this seriously,” Edwards said. “If Black Lives Matter, wear a mask.”

Monique Bernoudy, the assistant vice president for Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, was among several other members of NIU staff in attendance. As an alumna of NIU, Bernoudy said the center was like a home for Black people who made NIU a part of their life.

“For students, faculty, staff and even alumni, this place has always been a safe haven,” Bernoudy said. “As you can imagine, if you consider this your home and NIU is your home away from home, there’s different pockets of campus that resonate with you. To have your home defaced with hateful language, especially at a time in our country where there is an open display of hatred, it’s scary and frustrating.”

NIU President Lisa Freeman and Provost Beth Ingram were in attendance for statements from leadership of the protest organizers. Speakers demanded change at NIU to the teaching of Black history, an increase of Black faculty and an increase of Black student representation among others.

Collins said the main point of catching the attention of university leadership was to show how important the center was to the Black community at NIU.

“The main thing we just want [NIU leadership] to listen to is that the Center for Black Studies is a real haven for people on campus,” Collins said. When you have all these students calling NIU home, this should be a place where we can all feel safe. For us in the Black community, we feel like this is our place.”