More than 120 emails filled the inboxes of five top Saint Louis University administrators, including President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., over the weekend, demanding for more action regarding the recent racial incidents on campus.
The unofficial student group Students for Social Justice has been reaching out to students and alumni to form and send this list of demands for action.
“The administration wasn’t handling it, the administration didn’t say much in the first response, and it wasn’t enough, and that’s when we demanded a response,” senior Tianyi Li said. “It seems the administration is just kind of like they know what they are politically supposed to say, and I want them to feel uncomfortable. I want them to feel embarrassed that they haven’t done their job.”
On Tuesday, March 24, Vice-President of Frost Campus Manoj Patankar responded to all of those who emailed him. In his email, Patankar stated that the administration “shares your concern about any incidents of hate or intolerance, and we are deeply committed to making sure that every SLU student feels safe and respected on our campus.”
The other administrators that received the emails besides Biondi and Patankar were Vice-President for Student Development Kent Porterfied, Dean of Students Scott Smith and Assistant Vice President of Undergraduate Initiatives Leanna Fenneberg.
Since they are currently out of town, Biondi and Porterfield were unavailable for comment.
Patankar said he had been tracking the emails since Friday afternoon, which is when the administration began developing its response.
The emails included a list of eight demands, such as SLU students should be notified immediately regarding any threats to students, the incorporation of a 24-hour hotline to assist students who are feeling threatened, and that protocol developed in the committee to address hate incidents and crimes go into effect immediately.
“I really didn’t know what the motivation was to start the emails now in terms of timing, because we had not heard of any new incidents, so I didn’t quite know what their motivation was,” Patankar said. “But as the number of emails built, clearly it is a serious issue from the perspective of students. It is a serious issue from our side and the faculty side, and the seriousness of the issue was definitely conveyed.”
In the response, Patankar reiterated part of Biondi’s Feb. 10 message to the University community regarding the administration’s commitment to diversity.
“Half of his response was just regurgitating what Father Biondi said; we had an issue with this message two months ago and you are just kind of feeding fuel to the fire right now, saying that this is going to be your ultimate response,” Li said. “I call bullshit; essentially, I just call bullshit because he just said this is everything we can do.”
Since January, several racial incidents directed toward students have been reported on campus. Freshman Genise Sherrill was one of those students who felt targeted. According to Sherrill, on Feb. 24 several Caucasian males were outside her door, tearing down her nametag.
“One of them said, ‘F you, n[*****].’” Sherrill felt attacked from this incident, since she is the only African-American on her floor in Reinert Hall.
“I want them to know what this is about, and I want you guys to know that this is not a game. This is serious and it does involve you because we all go to this school,” she said.
The fifth floor of Reinert had a floor meeting regarding this incident, and Sherrill stated to her floor that she felt uncomfortable living there.
“People were saying ‘Well, we feel safe, why don’t you feel safe?’ One boy said ‘Well, Lil Wayne says it, so why don’t you get offended when he says it?’ And that just put me over the edge,” Sherrill said.
According to Sherrill, Smith has since informed her that the student who used the racial slur was asked to leave campus.
Graduate student Sarah Holland, an organizer with Students for Social Justice, has been communicating with students who have had similar experiences. Holland belives this communication is important for building community.
“We are trying to build that community, and it is a very long and arduous process. And so that’s what we are trying to do, is build trust between allies and people who are suffering. We are trying to include as many voices as we can,” Holland said.
The Students for Social Justice Facebook group currently has 501 members, as awareness of the group has been increasing since the vigil on Feb. 28, when students marched in silence to protest the hate incidents on campus.
“At the end of the day, [Student Government Association] is still the student body representative,” Outgoing SGA President Michael Harriss said. “I think the message they are trying to send is that there are a lot of students who are concerned. It’s not just one student who’s sending these emails, but it represents the concerns of a lot of students.”
A Town Hall for Diversity and Social Justice will be held on Thursday, March 25 at 5:30 in the Busch Student Center in the Saint Louis Room.
Patankar, Porterfield, Smith and Fenneberg have confirmed their attendance. Students for Social Justice is planning to arrive wearing black to show the administration its presence at the Town Hall.
“For us to make progress, we have to come together and that is what we are trying to do,” Smith said. “That is what I would say the students are trying to do. I think we all want to do the right thing, the best thing for the University community.”
Additional reporting by Kat Patke and Kristen Miano.
The email sent to administrators and Dr. Patankar’s response to those emails are attached below.
Sent: Saturday, March 20, 2010
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: NO MORE! Our list of demands
Dear Fr. Biondi, Dr. Porterfield, Dr. Smith, Dr. Fenneberg , Dr. Patankar-
We write to you on behalf of the student body, who are struggling to understand and respond to recent events on campus, which have targeted specific and marginalized groups of students.
We are especially concerned about the utilization of racial slurs and threats to intimidate students in the village and throughout campus. There are seven incidents that we are aware of but we continue to learn about others. This behavior is unacceptable and it not isolated. Black students have been targeted repeatedly throughout the school year and we, as a student body, will not allow this to continue. These are hate crimes and by not responding you, as an administration, are accepting this despicable behavior.
At SLU, we want all students to feel safe, respected and equally valued. Our Student Code of Conduct states “our community is characterized by respect for the dignity of others, honesty, and the pursuit of truth”. Yet, at this time students are feeling disrespected and afraid. We need the administration to say as one, we support our students and will act in a way that reflects this belief.
We are aware of the resolution passed by SGA and we support it but resolutions are not enough.
We have the following demands that we expect you to address immediately:
We demand that the Department of Public Safety (DPS) document and file the appropriate reports every time a student reports being threatened or harassed, effective immediately.
We demand that the SLU administration call these threats what they are, acts of hatred, whether a student is targeted for religion, race, sexual orientation, sexual identity, physical challenges, or for any other reasons, this is a serious issue and referring to it as anything else minimizes the fear and trauma experienced by the student and the community.
We demand that any threats to students by students be treated as any other crime. SLU students should be notified immediately via email or some other means.
We demand that a 24 hour hotline be created to assist students in responding immediately to threats and ensuring accountability.
We demand a campus wide email alerting students of the incident, the University’s policy prohibiting these actions, and the repercussions and actions taken against the offending students.
We demand that the protocol that has been developed in committee to address hate incidents and crimes goes into effect immediately.
The protocol must be transparent and with a strict timeline for the discipline procedure. Anything else is unacceptable. All students should have access to and be made aware the implementation of the protocol.
We also demand that this protocol protect students from targeting because of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Finally we demand that the student who threatened to lynch a member of our community be asked to leave SLU immediately, especially since he has failed to respect the cease and desist order.
To address our concerns with diversity and each group being valued….
We demand that SLU act in accordance with the social justice principles outlined in our mission and in doing so:
Create a Vice President of Diversity and Social Justice position.
Announce and make public the retention rates for minority groups at SLU.
Add staff to the Cross Cultural Center to support the current quality of work and to expand their ability to provide support to students.
Add a paid Graduate Assistantship position for the Cross Cultural Center
Improve the diversity of the counseling staff, so that students of different cultures may feel more comfortable.
Insist that all administration and faculty participate in multicultural competency training both at this time and on a regular basis.
Evaluate and improve the current Diversity requirement- the diversity requirement is currently watered down and does not require that students confront issues of privilege, race, and class head-on. This needs to be addressed and changed by next year.
Require that all students take a social justice class. We suggest that University 101 educate students in depth on social justice principles and the relationship of social justice to SLU’s mission and work.
Finally, we demand that the SLU administration apologize to the student body and admit that there is a problem which they have failed to respond to in a timely manner. This failure to act promptly and in a meaningful way has reinforced the distrust and fear felt by many members of the student body.
No more discussions. Discussion and forums are a tool for people without power to organize and develop a voice–we have done that and we want action now
We demand change. We demand real change. We demand it now.
We will expect to hear from you no later then Wednesday, March 24th.
The SLU Student Body
From: Dr. Manoj S. Patankar
Subject: RE: NO MORE! Our list of demands
Thank you for taking the time to send me an e-mail about your concerns of recent events on campus that have saddened all of us in the University community. Let me start by saying the University’s administration shares your concern about any incidents of hate or intolerance, and we are deeply committed to making sure that every SLU student feels safe and respected on our campus.
As I will outline below, much is being done, but there is more that we can and will do. As a Catholic, Jesuit University, discrimination in any form is unacceptable. We join you in wanting to address these acts of intolerance on our campus.
On February 10, Father Biondi sent a message to the entire University community that included the following:
Our commitment to diversity must be strong and continuous. This commitment must include race, gender, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. Every student and employee on our campus must feel welcomed and supported, and we cannot be blind to the prejudices that we know still exist in the world around us.
This means recognizing that we at SLU are not immune to acts of intolerance. Recently, there have been some incidents on campus, and at least one that involved the use of hateful speech directed at one of our students.
This is not acceptable anywhere, but certainly not at a Jesuit university and an institution with such deep roots supporting diversity. What we can and must do as a University community is resolve that we will never accept intolerance or injustice against another human being, no matter what form it takes. Likewise, we will embrace our differences.
Because through learning and sharing with others who see and feel the world differently, we all become wiser and better servants of humankind.
While we know there is more to be done, let me share with you some of the actions we have taken to address these incidents:
1. All reports of bias against students are documented by the Department of Public Safety and sent to the Office of Student Conduct for action. DPS officers can be contacted 24/7 by any student, faculty or staff member by calling 977-3000.
Action has been taken in recent bias incidents. But it is important to understand that federal student privacy laws often limit what we can say about the outcome of student conduct hearings.
· In two incidents where the students involved could be identified, prompt action was taken and the individuals are not currently enrolled at SLU.
· At least one other incident is still be adjudicated.
· Unfortunately, in the cases of several other reported incidents last fall, the responsible students could not be identified. However all of the incidents were fully investigated.
Any student reported to have allegedly committed acts of hate or bias against anyone will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct and will receive a hearing in accordance with the Code of Student Conduct. This has and continues to be SLU’s policy. These cases are being adjudicated in a very timely manner.
2. Earlier this semester, Dr. Kent Porterfield, Vice President for Student Development, sent two separate emails to all students asking for student input and then announcing a “Campus Dialogue and Diversity Education” program series that began in late February and continues through the semester. These were announced campus-wide through SLU Newslink.
In the residence halls where incidents have occurred, Student Development and Campus Ministry staff members have led hall meetings and follow-up programs to raise awareness and attempt to respond to the underlying issues that contribute to prejudice, bias or, worse yet, hate. Cross-Cultural Center and Counseling staff members also have been in attendance.
Through the Cross-Cultural Center, Student Life, Residence Life, Student Health and Counseling, Campus Ministry and the Dean of Students Office, we have made every effort to support students who have been so impacted by these terrible incidents.
A number of diversity and training programs are being held this semester. These programs include groups inside and outside of the University. For example, during Atlas Week, there is a four-part Social Justice Series on issues self-reported by students to be the most important.
§ March 22nd – Education
§ March 23rd – Human Rights
§ March 24th – Environment
§ March 25th – Religious Tolerance
Student Development is working with Doerr Center for Social Justice and Campus Ministry to bring the National Conference for Community and Justice of St. Louis to campus. The NCCJ of St. Louis provides training programs and outreach to educate and raise awareness around issues of diversity and inclusion.
Additionally, the curriculum committee of the College of Arts and Sciences is currently evaluating a new diversity requirement in the College. And a recommendation is expected this week to add a new major in African American Studies. Also being evaluated in the College is a new certificate program in Latino Studies.
3. Key committees have been formed and are working right now to address diversity issues across campus:
· Bias Incident Response Committee. Represented by a diverse group of faculty, staff and students, this committee has completed a draft of Bias Incident Response Protocol for the University. When approved, the protocol will help the University act quickly and appropriately to any future bias incidents.
· President’s Council on Diversity. This group has been charged by the president to develop longer-term strategies for addressing issues of justice and diversity at SLU.
· Undergraduate Initiatives Committee: Student of Color Retention Committee. This committee was charged this fall to enhance student success and the retention of students of color at SLU. This spring, “campus climate” focus groups are being held.
As this information shows, the administration has taken these incidents seriously. In addition to these actions, your email proposes a number of other initiatives that deserve and will receive consideration from the administration.
Additionally, I would invite you to attend the SGA-sponsored Town Hall this Thursday evening, where representatives of the administration will be present to talk with you about these issues.
There is, however, one part of your email with which I must strongly disagree. You say that you want no more “discussion.” I would argue that dialogue and discussion are key components of the campus coming together and dealing positively with issues of bias or hatred. Yes, action is good, and we are taking action.
But if we are to overcome hatred and intolerance, we must be willing to engage each other in ongoing meaningful discussion. I hope you will continue to be open to talking with us about your concerns.
I thank you again for your dedication to diversity and justice, and for taking a stand against intolerance.
Manoj Patankar, Ph.D.