Loyola’s Black Cultural Center (BCC) — a student organization on campus created to embrace the many cultures created by the African Diaspora — hosted a virtual town hall Oct. 8. Black students shared their experiences and gave suggestions on how their time at Loyola could be improved to a number of administrators in the audience.
Nearly 100 students, faculty and administrators attended the event — including Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney. Previously, Rooney was criticized by some protestors for remaining largely silent amidst protests for racial justice on and near Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, The Phoenix previously reported.
“I was humbled and honored to have been invited to listen and thank our Black students for sharing their personal stories and experiences,” Rooney said in an email to The Phoenix following the BCC’s town hall.
Although Rooney and some other administrators declined to be interviewed, Rooney told The Phoenix “University administration will be discussing and reflecting on what was shared as we continue working with the BCC and other students and student groups this academic year.”
During the town hall, Black students discussed areas Loyola has fallen short in supporting its students of color. Among many other things, students suggested Loyola diversify its curriculum, hire more Black faculty and advisers and better support Black students’ professional development by connecting them to more Black role models in their future careers.
Elise Purnsley and Connor Elmore, the co-presidents of Loyola’s BCC, hosted the event and said they received lots of positive responses from attendees afterward. Purnsley said “‘powerful’ was the word of the day” because that word appeared most often in the feedback they received following the event.
“I was very pleasantly surprised and very proud of our general body for not only showing up but for being so vulnerable and so courageous speaking in front of so many staff, faculty and administrators,” said Purnsley, a 20-year-old studying psychology.
The BCC released a list of ten recommendations over the summer calling for reforms across different areas within the university. Some of the recommendations included establishing an office of Black Student Success to centralize resources on campus as well as a living-learning community for Black students. The organization recommended the university implement more mental health resources for Black students and mandatory racial bias training for students, among other things. The BCC also suggested changes to Campus Safety — Loyola’s police force — including reviewing its policies and publishing officers’ conduct records.
Since then, students in the BCC have been working with administrators to make these ideas a reality on campus, Purnsley and Elmore said.
A few weeks after the town hall, Rooney sent an email Oct. 20 to the university community with an update on what steps have been taken in an effort to improve Black students’ experiences on campus so far.
Affirming Black lives matter, Rooney announced in the email extended programming around Black History Month, recognized Juneteenth as a university holiday warranting campus closure moving forward and said the university secured a grant for students of color, among other things. The email also mentioned planning is underway for a new Institute for Racial Justice.
Many of the changes mentioned in the email originated from suggestions made by the BCC — such as expanding mental health resources for Black students, establishing an Office of Black Student Success and securing permanent funding for end-of-the-year ceremonies for affinity-based student groups. In past years, the funding for graduation celebrations for Black students came out of the BCC’s budget, meaning student leaders had to work to secure the necessary money every year.
Purnsley said the Office of Black Student Success is what she most wanted to see implemented on the list of initiatives included in the email.
“I’m so excited for that because I think that’s really gonna be the hub for a lot of smaller initiatives we haven’t even thought of yet,” Purnsley said. “And having a place where Black students can go to for everything they need will be helpful for recruitment and retention.”
Also as a result of the BCC’s recommendations, Loyola is reviewing Campus Safety’s policies and starting to change parts of them, according to Rooney’s email sent to the community. This includes the creation of “Integrity Cards,” which can now be requested of Campus Safety officers by students, faculty and staff to make it easier for them to follow up with feedback.
Purnsley and Elmore agreed it’s hard to know how much of an effect the new Campus Safety policies will have until next year since most students aren’t on campus right now. Elmore said none of these changes are “one-stop-shop solutions” but rather initial steps toward Loyola becoming an anti-racist institution.
“Whether or not [Integrity Cards] meet the needs of all Black students or students concerned with Campus Safety, I think this shows an effort of trying to move forward and coming up with innovative ideas on their own for the continued betterment of Loyola,” said Elmore, a 20-year-old studying English and political science.
Elmore said although some might not feel like the school is making large changes, true solutions take a long time to implement. He said it’s important the solutions involve the entire structure of Loyola since racism is a system of oppression that can’t be addressed by any one part of the university.
“It’s easy to ask questions, make demands … but we’re talking about a system and that system is Loyola in the sense that everyone has a role and a part to play,” Elmore said. “It takes time and it takes effort and conversation and financial assistance and all of these things are constantly moving so it’s hard for that to be diffused and put out to students.”