Student groups rally ‘for a Transformed University’

By Andrea Flores and Vivienne Henning

Black Students for Revolution rally

University of Illinois students gathered at the Alma Mater on Friday, September 9, 2016 to rally for a radical transformation of higher education and other systematic issues. The rally was led by Black Students for Revolution and other student organizations. Students led the rally with speech, poetry, and song.

Videography by Jean Kang

Students gathered under the outstretched arms of Alma Mater Friday afternoon to “Rally for a Transformed University,” an event held by the group Black Students for Revolution, or BSFR.

In a Facebook post by the group Friday morning, the organization highlighted three main objectives for their rally: to join in solidarity with the Nationwide Prison Workers Strike, to release a list of demands that will radically transform the University and to be an initial starting point in a new era of students coming together to bring power to oppressed groups on campus.

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The rally had displays of black cultural and political action through poetry, music and political statements.

“The multiple organizations that worked in solidarity to construct this list of demands and organize this rally condemn the toxic patterns of economically exploitative, racially oppressive and gender/sexual discriminatory practices that drastically deteriorate the material and social conditions of underrepresented groups and individuals on the campus and in the community,” BSFR said on their Facebook page.

Ritse Adefolalu, a member of the BSFR, spoke about how a 1960’s group of black students got together and formed an organization called the Black Students Association (BSA). The BSA worked with community members from Urbana-Champaign to put forth a project called ‘Project 500,’ demanding that the University increase the amount of enrollment from underrepresented populations around Urbana-Champaign.

At the time, only 300 students on campus were African American out of the 30,000 enrolled. The next fall semester, 565 additional African American and Latino/Latina students were admitted to the University.

Within their first year, the BSA listed 35 demands, one of which called for the creation of an African American studies department.

“That student power is the same thing we’re trying to tap into right now, right here, with this rally and with our demands,” Adefolalu said. “We can get together and raise our voices, raise our power and make the things that we need to happen, happen.”

Taskin Sehitoglu, speaking for Gharbzadegi Art Collective, said that many students find the University’s financial tuition beyond their reach and how the Great Recession disproportionately affected people of color. The cost to attend UIUC has increased six-fold within the last 30 years.

“The onus is on us, as students and community members, to demand that this type of publicly funded institution offer affordable education for taxpayers in Illinois and the surrounding community,” Sehitoglu said.

Muhammad Yousuf, speaking for Students for Justice in Palestine, said that when the University makes cuts because of the state’s budget crisis, the most disproportionately affected areas are those geared towards oppressed and marginalized communities.

“We demand the full funding of all student resource centers on campus,” Yousuf said. “The funds which we funnel into this University must go towards creating a sustainable and accessible environment for all students, especially those from marginalized communities and disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Tyler Camp, from Campus Union for Trans Equality and Support, said queer students, especially persons of color, are often the most vulnerable, most likely to be homeless and most likely to be cut off financially or emotionally from their parents. They said that the recent all-gender housing provided to queer and trans students is some of the most expensive housing on or off campus.

“We demand that our University cease this intentional impoverishment of its most vulnerable students,” Camp said. “What our University can and must do is provide safe and affordable all-gender housing for queer and trans students and provide it at the lowest standard housing rate.”

Camp also said that they demand that students should be able to say if they identify as trans or queer on their applications. They want this information to be collected for the LGBT Resource Center so that queer and trans students can have the ability to access affirming and empowering resources.

“We need the University to recognize the intersecting needs of all the students that it serves,” Camp said. “We will no longer stand to be cut off from our communities, separated and silenced by administratively constructed barriers. We will stand together for our revolution and a transformed University.”

Kailah Lee, representing BSFR, talked about the nine sexual assaults that have been reported on campus since 2016. Five of the nine happened at fraternity houses, and five of the nine assailants were known to the victim.

“Upwards of 25 percent of all college women will experience some form of sexual violence. Even this number may be too small, as less than five percent of all sexual assaults are reported to the law,” said Lee. “Those nine survivors we learned about in those Massmails are in the vocal minority of a large community of survivors.”

Lee presented the demand that all members of fraternities and sororities on campus undergo intensive sexual assault and consent training program called GUARD. The demand lists that should a member of a fraternity assault someone after the training, they are to be suspended from the fraternity until they have completed a semester-long course on sexual assault and gender violence. The demands also state that should any member within a chapter that already has one recorded sexual misconduct commit another infraction, the entire chapter must be suspended for one year.

Each speaker emphasized to the crowd that these lists of demands are inclusive to everyone on campus and that it is importance that they join together.

“Together, we must stand in solidarity with one another’s struggles and tackle this issue head on,” Yousuf said. “When we stand together, we are powerful. When we stand united, we are unstoppable. And we will make our voices heard together.”

The organizations involved with Friday’s rally includes: Black Students for Revolution, Students for Justice in Palestine, Planner’s Network, MEChA, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, AASSCC, African American Studies Scholars Cultural Committee, CUTES, Campus Union for Trans Equality and Support, UMMA, United Muslim & Minority Advocates, GEO, Graduate Employees Organization, MSU, Mixed Student Union, Women of Pride, Allies and Accomplices for Racial Justice, Gharbzadegi Art Collective, Women of Color, Men of Impact, Allies and Accomplices for Racial Justice and Students Against Sexual Assault.

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A previous version of this article quoted Taskin Sehitoglu as referring to the University as a federal institution, when he actually said a publicly funded institution. Muhammad Yousuf’s name was also misspelled.