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‘Nothing Feels Like It’s Changed’: Some Students Say Loyola’s Anti-Racism Efforts Aren’t Progressing Fast Enough

Zack Miller | The PhoenixStudents chalked messages demanding change from the university regarding racial justice during protests last year.

Following nationwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter last summer — including months of on-campus demonstrations organized by student-led group Our Streets LUC — Loyola introduced a number of racial justice-focused organizations and resources, The Phoenix reported earlier this month.

But some students feel as though these initiatives aren’t progressing as quickly as they should.

‘Just Be Transparent’

“I understand that it’s hard for an administration this large to create change this effectively, but I lose empathy when we get this many emails and I’m bombarded with ‘Look at what we’re doing,’” said Diya Patel, a senior majoring in statistics. “And nothing feels like it’s changed.”

Patel — who is also president of the Honors BIPOC Coalition (HBC), a recently formed student group working to increase diversity within the Interdisciplinary Honors Program and its curriculum — said she “feels like a lot of committees are being made and not a lot of work is being done.”

Two of the university’s recently developed organizations are the Anti-Racism Initiative (ARI) and the Institute for Racial Justice (IRJ). The ARI is a group of Loyola faculty, students and alumni working to support Loyola community members of color through the creation of policy and resources. The IRJ, which is more externally focused, is responsible for conducting research on racial justice and forming connections with racial justice-related organizations outside of Loyola.

Leen Yassine | The Phoenix

Patel said she appreciates the work being done by groups such as the ARI and IRJ but there’s a disconnect and lack of communication between the administration and the student body.

“It’s confusing from a student’s perspective to see Our Streets not being formally recognized by the university when a lot of this work is being done because Our Streets was founded on campus,” Patel said. “It’s weird to see that dichotomy of: so much is happening within the student perspective and so much is not happening with the administration.”

Our Streets didn’t respond to several requests for comment.

Patel said she’s also concerned some of the long-time resources for BIPOC students, such as the Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs Office (SDMA), are being neglected in favor of newer groups.

University spokesperson Anna Rozenich said Loyola increased SDMA’s budget by 16% this year.

Alisha Sayani, a senior who is involved with SDMA and Loyola’s Muslim and Pakistani student associations, told The Phoenix that she thinks the ARI is a step in the right direction but she hasn’t seen real change manifested on campus yet. Echoing similar sentiments as Patel, Sayani said organizations such as the Black Cultural Center (BCC) should have bigger spaces on campus.

In regards to the BCC, which is a registered student organization, the Allocations Committee of Loyola’s student government is responsible for approving its budget, Rozenich wrote in an email to The Phoenix.

“Although the University has made progress, our work is by no means done and we remain committed and eager to keep moving forward with intentionality so that the changes we implement as a community are sustaining and meaningful inside and outside of our institution,” Rozenich said.

Right now, Sayani said she just wants to see a map or plan of goals that the ARI hopes to accomplish in the coming months.

“Just to let students know that they’re actually doing something,” Sayani said. “Just be transparent. There should be some level of transparency of where they’re at and where they want to go.”

The Anti-Racism Initiative

While the ARI doesn’t work directly with SDMA, it partners with organizations such as BCC, the Black Graduate Student Alliance (BGSA) and White Coats for Black Lives, according to ARI Chair Dr. Amy Nelson Christensen.

Nelson Christensen said she understands why students might think the ARI isn’t making progress because the initiative hasn’t communicated everything it’s been doing, despite sending out bi-weekly newsletters to the Loyola community with updates.

Leen Yassine | The Phoenix

Nelson Christensen said the ARI website will be updated throughout the semester as the organization progresses, and the initiative is working on adding visual progress monitors — similar to infographics — so Loyola community members can better track the group’s development.

Morgan Smith and Char Coates, co-presidents of BCC who also serve on the ARI’s advisory committee, said they think the outgrowth of BIPOC organizations on campus is “beautiful” but the responsibility is “on Loyola” to allocate proper time and funding to each of them.

“With all these programs arising, it just seems like there’s a lot of the same program just doing different things, but the creation of them is important because they cater to different people,” Smith said. “I think as long as Loyola really nurtures them, then I think it’s okay.”

For example, BCC is mainly focused on student life and helping students acclimate to campus while the ARI generally works on larger scale policy changes, Smith said. While these two groups have different focuses and approaches, Smith said both have a common goal of helping students of color and making Loyola more inclusive.

“I feel like our voices matter just as much as the older or more knowledgeable people on the advisory,” Smith said of her experience on the ARI’s advisory committee.

Smith also said she doesn’t think the ARI is moving too slowly, pointing out that the group is composed of a variety of members and that the initiative isn’t their only obligation.

Leen Yassine | The Phoenix

“Some of us are college students, some of us are graduate students, some of us are like Dr. Nelson [Christensen] — she’s a whole doctor and she has her own job,” Smith said. “So we have other things going on in our life besides ARI. But I personally don’t think it’s moving too slowly. This takes time for us to discuss things that we want to implement.”

Some of ARI’s plans for this semester include launching an Office for Black Student Success (OBSS) — which was officially announced in the ARI’s ninth newsletter Sept. 23 — refining inclusive hiring practices and ramping up affinity-based retention programs, according to Nelson Christensen.

The ARI is working to hire a program director and a coordinator before launching the office, according to the newsletter.

“It’s important to note that the OBSS is meant to serve as a collaborative partner for Black students on campus and not replace current offices or programs that are responsible for supporting all students,” the ARI newsletter states

LaShaunda Reese, a fourth year graduate student pursuing a PhD in ethics, was part of a task force helping with the creation of the OBSS — which she describes as an “all-inclusive homeplace for all levels of Black students at Loyola.” Reese said the task force focused on researching and gathering Black student experiences, desires and outcomes.

Reese, who is co-founder of the BGSA and a member of the ARI advisory committee, said she thinks the initiative is moving in a positive direction and expects the OBSS to come into fruition this school year.

Nelson Christensen said while she would love for the OBSS to be completed this year, she is also cautious of putting a timeline on it.

“We want to do things right,” Nelson Christensen said. “We don’t just want to do things in a reactive, performative way.”

Along with the creation of the OBSS, Reese said the university has been in the process of hiring a new vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion — a position which was officially filled, the university announced in an email Sept. 28.

“After the completion of a successful search process, I am proud to announce Loyola University Chicago’s first Vice President of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Dominique Jordan Turner,” Loyola President Jo Ann Rooney wrote in the email. “It was important for us to look beyond traditional academia and find a person of color who profoundly understands what it takes to transform people and institutions.”

The ARI and Loyola administration have also been working to ensure the success and retention of Black faculty and staff — which has a direct impact on Black student success, Reese said. She said there has been what she calls “a recalibration of hiring requirements,” which means that Loyola programs and departments have to have a diverse pool of candidates before they can even consider hiring for a position.

“Just by having that kind of ‘university mandate’ I’ll call it, it has forced these programs and departments to go out of their traditional hiring pools and really pursue candidates that are not only qualified but also come from a multitude of backgrounds,” Reese said. “And we all know that diverse experiences really contribute to a more well-rounded education.”

Reese said there might not be much visible progress coming out of the ARI — especially because the group was working online last year — but the initiative is actively working toward the tangible outcomes that students really want to see.

Loyola biology professor Dr. John Kelly said the ARI guided all academic departments through a racial justice examen — or self assessment — during the last academic year. Each department set up a committee of faculty, staff and undergraduate and graduate students to conduct their respective examens, said Kelly, who was committee chair for the biology department.

After conducting student surveys and research, Kelly said each department wrote a report and outlined its next steps towards becoming more anti-racist. The biology department’s first step after submitting the report is establishing its own diversity, equity and inclusion committee — which is currently being created — Kelly said.

“The university as a whole is just starting down this path,” Kelly said. “Moving along this continuum towards being a more anti-racist institution, so we have a ways to go I think.”

Kristine Khieu, a second year medical student at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine, said the final examen report was “a sobering document that detailed a lot of what we need to work on.”

Khieu — who is co-president of White Coats for Black Lives, a student organization founded after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 — said she’s happy the ARI was created and the initiative is a “good first step” towards racial justice.

“We want to make sure it’s not just for show and that real constructive change is happening, and I think it is,” Khieu said. “I completely empathize with students feeling like more could be done. I think now is the time to maintain momentum and make sure that all the work that was done through the examen can produce change.”

‘Anti-Racism Isn’t Just A Phase or Trend’

While Nelson Christensen said she, like some students, wishes things could move more quickly, she also acknowledges that moving fast isn’t always a good thing.

“Do I wish that things were moving forward more quickly? Of course,” Nelson Christensen said. “I think we all would like to see change more quickly. But if we saw change too quickly, that would also be bad. Because then it means that we’re just doing things out of reaction and not actually addressing deep-rooted problems in our society that, you know, these things aren’t going to change overnight.”

She said she wants the community to know that there is both a sense of urgency and hope among everyone working on the initiative.

“I think that one of the challenges that we face in pushing for racial justice is balancing being thoughtful and intentional about change but making enough progress where things are showing movement,” Nelson Christensen said. “It feels like change never comes fast enough because we’re tired, and we want things to be different.”

The ARI’s current advisory committee met for the first time this semester Sept. 23. The committee usually meets around twice a semester to receive updates on the initiative’s progress, according to Nelson Christensen.

Connor Elmore, former BCC president and its current publicity chair, said it’s too early to tell whether or not these efforts are making a significant impact on campus but that he wants to “give grace.”

“I don’t know what other students have been saying, but I just hope that the conversation just doesn’t die,” Elmore said. “I hope that anti-racism isn’t just a phase or trend, and that it’s lasting.”

Elmore, a senior majoring in political science and English, said he was previously on the ARI’s advisory committee and is still involved with the initiative as a member of BCC. He said he has a better understanding of why things might be moving slowly because he has had “behind the scenes access.”

But Elmore also expressed understanding towards students who feel that anti-racism efforts are moving slow.

“I feel like it’s a certain positionality to just say things just take time,” Elmore said. “But those who are really impacted, that impacts their life.”

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