Students congregated on campus Sept. 11 to listen to their fellow classmates give speeches, read poetry and share their experiences of what it’s like to be Black student at Loyola.
The event was organized by Our Streets LUC — the student group that’s been orchestrating protests on and around campus since Aug. 21.
Along with the speeches, the group also encouraged students to boycott classes Sept. 11 and instead take the day to “self-educate” with resources surrounding racism, activism and Black culture, The Phoenix previously reported.
Students got permission from the university to use the space outside Cuneo Hall for the afternoon, but had to figure out how to get the sound system on their own, Dorien Perry-Tillmon, a sophomore film and digital media major, as well as one of the main Our Streets organizers, told the crowd.
Although Our Streets LUC hasn’t organized a protest in recent days, Perry-Tillmon told the crowd the organizers are working behind the scenes in meetings with the school’s administration to continue to advocate for their demands to be met.
The organizers invited administrators to the event and brought a chair they reserved with a sign for Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney, who didn’t attend.
“I brought this chair from my house,” sophomore Trey Johnson said in his speech during the Sept. 11 event. “I helped write that sign. It was just for you. You didn’t come. We need Loyola to start showing up more because since she’s not here, our words ring empty. They ring very empty and that makes me sad.”
In response to the event, University Spokesperson Anna Shymanski Zach said Loyola supports students’ peaceful protests and commends them for gathering “peacefully, responsibly, and safely.”
“Many of the suggestions and recommendations put forth by the Black Cultural Center (BCC) and other recognized student organizations in In Support of Black Students have been discussed and addressed,” Shymanski Zach said in a statement to The Phoenix. “President Rooney, the Vice President for Student Development, the Dean of Students, and other departmental leaders at Loyola have been in ongoing dialogue with these students and commend them for putting forth strong recommendations and suggestions.”
The statement didn’t address whether or not Rooney was invited to the event or why she didn’t attend.
During the event, some students shared their experiences facing racism on campus, from hearing fellow students use racial slurs to negative interactions with Campus Safety officers.
Loyola’s Campus Safety Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Phoenix.
Sania Henry, a sophomore at Arrupe College, told the crowd a staple of being a Black student at Loyola is “wondering where safe spaces will be” and constantly adjusting as you realize places you thought were safe aren’t anymore.
“Sometimes we do find safe spaces or comfort in our classrooms, or at least we think we do, and then we’re reminded once again that it’s not easy,” Henry said during her speech.
A third-year PhD student and founder of Loyola’s Black Graduate Student Alliance LaShaunda Reese told the crowd she’s currently the only Black graduate student in the Theology department and there are no Black professors. She spoke at the event about how she’s tried to create community at Loyola even though there are very few Black graduate students.
Black students made up 11.1 percent of all doctoral students and 12.1 percent of master’s students during the 2018-2019 school year, according to university data. White students made up 68.5 and 59.5 of the students, respectively, that same year.
“When people get into spaces where it’s either fight or flight, sometimes the fight looks different than you might think,” Reese said to the crowd. “Sometimes the fight looks like building a community, sometimes the fight looks like having meetings with the university.”
Multiple speakers also mentioned they came to Loyola expecting a more diverse student body and more support for students of color since the university promotes a mission of social justice.
“I saw the campus itself and I was like, ‘Oh it’s pretty or whatever, but… where the Black people at?’” Loyola sophomore Maggie Gathumbi said in her speech.
Gathumbi told the crowd she started working at the admissions office because she wanted to tell incoming Black students what Loyola’s like and make sure they “felt like they had a place here.”
Emily Been, a senior studying art history who attended the event, told The Phoenix she went because she thinks it’s important for her as a white person to listen when Black students talk about their experiences. Something that stood out to her was hearing multiple Black student speakers say they expected to feel supported at Loyola but arrived and realized that wasn’t the case.
“It really goes along with the theme of Loyola not following through on its promises to students and not caring about what the students care about,” Been, 21, said. “It’s really disgusting to see we put in all this money to be here and they couldn’t care less about what the students are actually experiencing.”