Standing in solidarity at Loyola

March 6, 2018

Mark Hannan and Aaron V. report on student protests at Loyola University in Chicago after an assault by campus police exposed systemic racism on campus.

STUDENTS AT Loyola University Chicago (LUC) are rallying together in struggle following the January 24 racist profiling and brutalizing of two student activists of color by university police.

The students, who had been protesting LUC's use of $2 million in student tuition to construct a new athletic center, questioned police about why they were subjecting Black men to a humiliating search at a basketball game. The cops assaulted both of the students and arrested one--who was only released when fellow students surrounded the police car, demanding that he be freed.

The administration's tepid initial response, in which it not only failed to apologize, but also lied and blamed the victims, stoked outrage. Hoping to quell student dissatisfaction, the administration pledged to hold closed-door "listening sessions" about the incident.

But this non-response only increased student resolve, and a coalition of campus organizations came together to demand action.

Despite the pressures of midterm week, in late February and early March, students struck back with a series of events: a walkout in which more than 500 people participated, followed by a packed-to-capacity town hall meeting attended by more than 400, and then another hundreds-strong protest during midterm week to deliver demands to university administrators.

Students at Loyola University demand accountability from the administration at a town hall meeting
Students at Loyola University demand accountability from the administration at a town hall meeting (Carly Behm | The Phoenix)

At each step, students have demanded that the activists face no repercussions, and that the administration be accountable and implement systemic change.

Student organizations, including the Loyola Socialists-International Socialist Organization, the Black Cultural Center (BCC), Students for Reproductive Justice (SRJ), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the African Student Alliance (ASA), Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) and Undocumented and Proud (UP), co-sponsored the events.

THE FEBRUARY 28 walkout, initially proposed by the BCC, flooded Damen Hall with more than 500 people for a rally.

Speaker Robin Branton expressed outrage, asking: "How can we feel safe in an institution which doesn't recognize and acknowledge the very clear issue at hand? We cannot feel safe if those that are here to protect us do so by responding to nonviolence in a violent manner."

A.X., the Loyola Socialists member who was assaulted and arrested by campus police at the basketball game, spoke about how student-led struggle is the only way to create real, systematic change on campus:

Through mass action, I was freed from unexplainable detainment by LUCPD and the administration. Students...surrounded the LUCPD patrol car for 35 minutes, advocating for my freedom.

Following continuous lies and manipulation from the Dean of Students William Rodriguez, who stated that he could not release me from the car, students worked for my full release. This is a complete example of solidarity and action through mass struggle.

LUC's student body is no stranger to racism, hypocrisy, oppression and retaliation against political voices. Most recently, in the name of Black History Month, the cafeteria put out a "cultural" menu that included stereotypical and offensive items including grape Kool-Aid and fried chicken.

A 2017 article by then-student Ryan X outlines how Loyola is "fiscally invested in companies that profit from human rights abuses."

The article explained how, the year before, in a demonstration in solidarity with the antiracist struggle of Mizzou's #BlackStudentsMatter campaign, a list of 13 demands were presented to the administration--half of which were from the unfulfilled demands of the Anti-Racism Movement nearly a decade previous.

In an e-mail interview, Ryan described the university's response:

Only when faced with widespread negative publicity did they propose any sort of policy solutions. "Dialogue" and "listening sessions" are Loyola's response of choice any time students of color are concerned. They have listened to our suffering for 10 years (at a minimum) and done little to alleviate it.

Loyola means well, but as any profit-driven institution, only when faced with external pressure and student direct action have they responded with meaningful solutions for our university's marginalized students.

THE DAY after the walkout, a student-organized town hall meeting drew over 400 students, alumni and community members. The meeting was open to all and structured to allow for free comment and debate, in contrast to the administration's strategy of closed-door dialogue and listening sessions.

As participants filed into the room, filling every seat and spilling out into the hallway, the sense of anger and defiance was palpable.

Paloma, the other Loyola student who had been slammed against a wall by Loyola campus police at the basketball game, led off the meeting by recounting the incident and addressing some of the attempts by Loyola's administration to shift blame. She told the audience:

I've heard people say that we decided to get involved in something that has nothing to do with us. This is wrong. As concerned students, students of colors, and members of the Loyola and surrounding Rogers Park community, we have every right to question the actions of the police--especially in their handling of people of color on our campus.

In a country where Black men between the ages of 15 and 34 are nine times more likely to be shot by law enforcement than other Americans, community attention to police action is a necessary as police have proven unable to hold themselves accountable.

Panelist Mine Dafiaghor of the ASA and BCC affirmed the demands--projected onto a large screen behind the speakers--drawn up immediately following the assault by those present, and listed an extension of some demands as drawn up by students of color on the campus.

Solidarity and a deep anger at the longstanding climate of racism on campus and tokenizing of people of color by the administration were the themes of the night.

Paula Camaya of UP condemned the actions of the police and administration. "Under no circumstances should Black and Brown students on this campus have to live in fear," she said.

Rania Salem of SJP spoke of the common cause shared by oppressed communities on campus and beyond:

Within our different communities, our struggles are not the same, but I personally believe that they are very similar. These systems in place that oppress the Palestinian people are the same systems that oppress all people of color and different communities within this country.

A.X. of the Loyola Socialists drew links between the cowardly actions of Loyola's administration and campus police, and the system they both represent:

LUCPD and the administration work any way they can to suppress students on campus when it comes to LUC potentially losing unnecessary athletic donations from, say, Norville [athletic center], or being able to siphon more students and students of color through [the university's strategic admissions document] Plan 2020 into this dirty institution solely for profits, while leaving the fate of these students up to the uncontested, racist and excessive force of LUC's police department.

WHEN THE meeting was opened to audience members to comment, students of color, past and present, spoke for over an hour in vivid detail about the pain and struggles they have experienced navigating Loyola's racist climate.

A former student remembered near-daily harassment and racial profiling that led her to transfer to a different university after one semester. One current student recounted being racialized and humiliated by a teacher, while another spoke about fearing for her safety every time she or her partner comes to campus because of racist targeting by campus security. Yet another said he felt like little "more than a piece of color to [the administration]."

Each brave speaker gave listeners a clearer picture of Loyola's institutionalized racism. Comments from the floor detailed how students of color are needlessly funneled into a college preparatory program, but told that many "would not make it past the program."

Many expressed disdain for LUC's attitude to Arrupe College--a two year associate's degree program that the university markets to low-income students, in particular students of color. Several students spoke about Arrupe students being courted by the university, only to then be relegated to second-class status.

Especially damning were comments from students who work for the Undergraduate Admissions Office.

One revealed that the office essentially racially profiles incoming students, sending different scripted "welcome" letters to students based on their self-identified gender and whether they are categorized as "white," "Black" or "Hispanic."

Another said that when leading a tour of prospective students on the day of the basketball game where the police violence occurred, she was instructed to tell the group that Loyola values its students' right to express their voices if the group ran into protesters--but that it was a lie.

Panelists and speakers at the town hall returned again and again to Loyola's supposed dedication to Jesuit social justice values. Each account further revealed the large gap between these professed values and the struggles students face once they arrive on campus.

After quoting from Loyola's "Transformative Education in the Jesuit Tradition" document, Jessica Collins of YDSA railed against the disparity between rhetoric and reality:

How can they say that when we have homeless students, we have adjunct professors who make poverty wages? We have students of color who are being traumatized, who are being victimized, who are being assaulted and then blamed for what they go through!

Lauren Morrissey of SRJ called out the administration's hypocrisy. "I came here and I was like: I'm so ready for this social justice university. And the only places that I found social justice was in these movements that are being silenced by administration," she said.

Loyola's administration has a long history of suppressing free speech, retaliating against individuals seeking change at the university and also denying students the ability to organize on campus.

Two of the sponsoring groups at the town hall, the Loyola Socialists and SRJ, have been denied status as registered student organizations for years, despite meeting all of the prerequisites to gain official status. Both have been told by the university to cease and desist all organizing on campus.

AS COMMENTS from the floor drew to a close, a proposal was put forth to hold a protest on the following day to deliver the demands to the administration. It was greeted with a unanimous "yes" vote from those in attendance.

Despite midterms and spring break looming, some 250 students took part in speeches in the quad, followed by a march to the Provost's office.

After chants, including "No justice, no peace," a student read the demands out loud to the assembled crowd. A representative of the administration acknowledged that they "have been aware of the issue for a long time," referencing anti-racist movements on campus since 2007. Student activists, dissatisfied with over a decade of "awareness" and no action, continue to demand action.

Loyola students feel disillusioned after years of being told they are being heard, but not seeing results. Now, students are collectively realizing that change will only come if they organize for it within their ranks.

The task that lies ahead is to broaden the sizeable core of activist students into a mass movement on campus and beyond. Change will come through coalition building, collective struggle and mass action.

At the town hall meeting, Mine Dafiaghor summed up the need for united action: "There's a difference, I've learned this week, between an ally and a comrade. An ally is somebody who listens to you. A comrade is somebody who goes above and beyond to do the right things for the right reasons. Who fights for us."

At every action, and at every meeting, the rallying cry is clear: This is only the beginning, and we won't yield until our demands are met.

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