Black students at Saint Louis University demanded on Tuesday that administrators respond to the campus’ recent hate crimes by increasing recruiting efforts of black students and faculty, as well as making curricula more inclusive.
On Saturday night, someone accessed the computer connected to a projector in the Busch Student Center at SLU and changed the text on the large screen to read, “Nazis rule f*** niggers and fags.” The week before, students discovered a swastika arranged out of tealight candles outside the Marguerite Hall dorm.
SLU’s hate messages follow behind a recent shooting at two Jewish community centers in Kansas City, where three people were shot and killed allegedly by a former Ku Klux Klan leader.
The Black Student Alliance held a press conference on Tuesday night to denounce the acts and request public support for its “list of demands” to administrators.
“These actions do not reflect Saint Louis University’s hope for inclusiveness, but instead gives light to the reality that many students of African descent face while at Saint Louis University,” said Christopher S. Walker Jr., president of the alliance. “Students of African descent at Saint Louis University have been repeatedly subject to acts of racism, and in turn, receive idle resolutions, lack of transparency and stagnation from the administration.”
Although representing only black students, alliance representatives said that they have the support and collaboration of other minority student groups who plan to come forward with their own statements and demands soon.
The alliance demanded that the university work towards increasing black student enrollment by 2 percent every year so that 15 percent of the university reflects the demographic by Fall 2018. They asked that all university departments recruit and retain more black professors.
They proposed that all students be required to enroll in courses that relate to “minority, marginalized and/or disenfranchised” studies courses by Fall 2015. They also demanded to sit down with Interim President William Kauffman within 48 hours.
Kauffman, who attended the conference, said publicly that he would be willing to work with the alliance on their demands. Immediately after the Saturday incident, Kauffman sent out a campus-wide letter stating that the behavior “will not be tolerated,” and his team has launched an investigation to identify the responsible parties.
Alliance members said they’ve chosen not to focus their attention on one person’s ignorance because it “doesn’t really hurt us.”
“What really hurts us is that you can have a scholarship in Martin Luther King Jr.’s name but only have 6 percent of the recipients be black students,” said Jonathan Pulphus, academic chair for the alliance and an upcoming sophomore. “What hurts us is when the strongest contingent of blacks on campus happen to be the people serving food and cleaning the campus.”
Pulphus said some black students go all four years without ever having a black professor lead their classes.
Michelle Lewis, director of the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, attended the conference. When The St. Louis American asked what the university is currently doing to increase employment of African Americans and other minorities, she said that by federal law SLU is required as a federal contractor to report its employment numbers and Affirmative Action efforts every year. The reports are not available on their website but are open to anyone who would want to view them in the office, she said.
When asked if this event would encourage the office to post these reports to increase transparency, she said the office “currently doesn’t have the right format to do that.”
According to the Fact Book 2012-2013 posted on the university’s website, 3 percent of full-time faculty members were African-American in Fall 2012. About 7 percent of both undergraduate and post-undergraduate students in 2012 were black – a six percent decline from 2011 enrollment.
About 100 students attended the press conference, including students from Harris-Stowe State University, who came to support the alliance. During the Q&A session, Jason Ebinger, a Martin Luther King Jr. scholar and SLU sophomore, stated that the MLK scholarship amount is set at $13,000 and hasn’t changed in years, despite the rising costs of tuition. However, the Presidential and Vice President’s scholarships are valued at 100 percent and 50 percent of tuition.
“Do you think the fact that the administration has not increased the amount of the scholarship says something about how much it values the MLK scholarship versus how much it values the Presidential and Vice President’s scholarships?” Ebinger said.
Some students asked alliance members how increasing enrollment and employment for minorities and requiring culture competency in curriculum would address the hate crimes.
“By enhancing the knowledge of every student and by enhancing the diversity that you see on campus, you are more comfortable and you are more likely to think twice before you make a statement or do something discriminatory,” said Kimberly Turner, senator for the alliance who will be a junior in the fall. “By increasing African Americans on campus, you increase the relationships and sense of empathy of what it means to be a minority.”
Stefan Bradley, director of the African American Studies Department at SLU, served as the moderator for the Q&A session. He asked alliance representatives why they chose to present their demands publicly rather than schedule a private meeting with administrators.
“Knowledge is power,” Turner said. “The more people who know what we are asking and what we need, the more likely the needs will be met.”
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