Students reflect on Black voices, spaces at UI

By Ashleigh Kendrick, Assistant Features Editor

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement had a firm grip on the nation’s attention. That summer, citizens took to the streets to protest the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many others.

However, with the pandemic no longer at the front of the population’s minds, some students feel the University is no longer listening to Black voices and issues.

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Arielle Capel, junior in LAS, said that due to the quarantine, society was forced to stop, and as a result, Black voices took center stage. However, as the pandemic drew on, people continued their lives as they were before.

“The world stopped, and that was when you could finally hear our voices,” Capel said. “But once the world started again, it’s no wonder that it’s become a lot quieter because everyone remembered their priorities.”

As people returned to their normal lives, Capel said she noticed the limited amount of spaces for Black students to voice their issues. Capel said there are safe spaces for Black students, but they have to be sought out.

“It can be found if you look for it, but you shouldn’t have to look for Black voices,” Capel said. “You should just hear them and acknowledge that they’re already there.”

Dacia Leaky, sophomore in LAS, had similar thoughts. Although she noticed the University trying to create spaces for Black students, she said she feels that the efforts are overshadowed by the University trying to not upset others.

“The University does try in a way that they feel is more digestible to everyone … because they don’t want to ruffle feathers,” Leaky said.

Leaky said she thinks of campus and the Champaign area as progressive and open to listening to Black voices, but does not see an effort being put toward change.

“I will say Champaign is a pretty liberal, progressive county, but in terms of Black Lives Matter, I don’t really see it as much as I should,” Leaky said. “It’s not really emphasized on this campus as much as it should.”

Capel also said she notices the University’s efforts as Black students have a cultural house, the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, as a safe space. Capel said BNAACC is one space on campus that acknowledges Black voices and issues. However, she wishes the rest of the campus would do the same.

“BNAACC is an amazing place to remember that Black lives actually matter,” Capel said. “The rest of the campus however, it’s very ‘I don’t see color’ and that’s fine and dandy, it’s just whether you see it or not I’m still Black — I’m still here.”

Leaky also mentioned the University’s efforts in regard to the dining experience as during Black History Month, the Ikenberry Dining Hall serves food from Black cultures. Still, Leaky said the efforts are underwhelming.

“At the Ike, (they) try to do like jollof and stuff like that, but they definitely could do a little bit more than just that,” Leaky said. “Like that’s just very basic.”

Capel said she views the few actions the University has taken to appeal to Black students do not feel authentic.

“It feels too performative, and it feels like they’re just trying to cover themselves from the reporters (and) the media the articles that are going to be written about them,” Capel said. “It doesn’t have the authenticity to convince me and probably the majority of the minority community.”

Manny Stewart, sophomore in LAS, said he thinks there are limited groups for minorities to voice their issues on campus.

“I feel like a lot of minority issues on campus aren’t represented by a lot of groups,” Stewart said.

Leaky said she wished the University would be more involved in creating spaces for Black voices, culture and people to thrive, as well as informing students on issues that the Black community faces in the nation. Leaky said the University should encourage Black students to utilize the Main Quad as a space to voice their concerns or protest.

“(The University) definitely could send out more emails, create more Black spaces, encourage us to go out on the Quad and, you know, protest if needed or just talk about issues and stuff like that,” Leaky said.

Stewart said that if a group was created on campus with set values to hear Black voices and issues, he would be thankful.

“I think if there was a group on campus that had a select agreement of demands and such in which they can bring, I would very much appreciate it,” Stewart said.

Capel agreed and said Black and minority students alike have to push for the University to create safe and open spaces for students to express issues or concerns.

“We have to look up and ask them not only to do something but to lift up the voices that are saying things,” Capel said. “If their argument is that they don’t know what’s wrong, there are plenty of students willing to have the conversation and explain what’s going on.”


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