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Black Leadership Coalition releases statement on Yiannopoulos event

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On Thursday, The DePaulia received a five-page statement from the DePaul University Black Leadership Coalition (DPUBLC).

The statement is in reaction to events leading up to and following the Milo Yiannopoulos event held by DePaul College Republicans on May 24.

This is the statement in its entirety:


DPUBLC Statement Regarding the Milo Yiannopoulos Campus Visit

The DePaul University Black Leadership Coalition (DPUBLC), representing faculty and staff of African descent, submits this statement to President Dennis H. Holtschneider and the University community regarding the Milo Yiannopoulos campus visit.

The community of African descent at DePaul is deeply offended and disappointed with the manner in which President Holtschneider has handled the controversy both preceding and subsequent to the Yiannopoulos campus visit. DPUBLC strongly believes that the Yiannopoulos event is merely the tip of the iceberg and symptomatic of larger racial tensions at DePaul.

We believe that a commitment to a diverse campus environment must move beyond the usual rhetoric, platitudes and promotional campaigns, and begin to embrace an earnest regard for the interest and wellbeing of all groups at DePaul, including people of African descent.

Background:

  • For years, the community of African descent (faculty, staff, and students) has expressed dissatisfaction with the campus racial climate. This expressed dissatisfaction has encompassed the tenure and promotion process; the limited upper level leadership opportunities available for both faculty and staff; student encounters with racial profiling and microaggressions; the low recruitment, retention and graduation of students of African descent; the low recruitment and retention of faculty of African descent; the administration’s tokenism strategy of elevating and rewarding minorities who do not represent the interests or backgrounds of the wider community of color; and a pervasive atmosphere of disregard and disrespect for the entire community.
    • In the absence of genuine and effective support from the University, DePaul faculty and staff of African descent have created a sub community of support for one another and for students. This is a burden that is not borne by faculty and staff of the dominant group on campus.
  • Several occurrences during the 2015-2016 academic year set the stage for current racial unrest and tension surrounding the incident:
    • The January 31, 2016 DePaul Facebook group controversy where African Americans were referred to as n**gers.
    • The tepid response emanating from President Holtschneider’s meetings with The Black Student Union (BSU) in the aftermath of the November 12, 2015, Men of Vision and Empowerment (MOVE) rally in support of the African American students at the University of Missouri.
      • President Holtschneider charged the President’s Diversity Council (PDC) with recommending solutions to the problems identified by the BSU. The PDC does not have the power to effect change, and is largely viewed as an ineffective body that does not adequately represent the community of African descent.
    • The April 2016 sidewalk chalkings that included messages such as, “Build a Wall” and “Blue Lives Matter.”
    • The May 2016 oil paintings on the Quad reading “Trump 2016” and “F**k Mexico”

    The Milo Yiannopoulos Event 

    • It was in this charged atmosphere that the DePaul College Republicans decided to host the “Dangerous Fa**ot: Feminism is Cancer” tour, featuring Milo Yiannopoulos, “a popular media figure who routinely uses his platform to engage in violent, sexist, transphobic, and racist rhetoric.”
      • The goal of the event, according to the College Republicans was to “Make DePaul Great Again,” and to address what was in their view, the University’s “serious need of a wake-up call.”
    • The invitation set off a maelstrom of controversy over the appropriateness of the event on DePaul’s campus, and the likely impact that the event would have on campus climate.
    • Students appealed to President Holtschneider to intervene by rescinding the invitation, both through direct request and petitions. 
    • An excerpt from a Change.org petition reads:DePaul President Dennis Holtschneider has directly refused a personal request to cancel the event. In his personal refusal to a student he stated, “I do not share the same level of concern as you for the well-being of our students if they are exposed to this spectacle.” By failing to cancel the event after having been made aware of the possible consequences that would result from the presence of Yiannopoulos, the administration of DePaul University has taken a stance that is contrary to the intrinsic and fundamental values of what it means to be a Vincentian. They are allowing the perpetuation of both hate speech and systemic oppression on campus, and this is an unpardonable action for an institution which claims to stand for and with members of all communities within the human family.
    • In the week preceding the event, an article in the DePaulia warned that “Petitions have been signed and protests planned in the wake of controversial conservative personality Milo Yiannopoulos’ arrival at DePaul later this month.”
      • The Milo Yiannopoulos event was held on Tuesday, May 26, 2016 in the LPC Student Center. As predicted, directly preceding and after the event, a diverse group of student protesters were met with physical threats and verbal assaults.
      • A diverse group led by two African American students disrupted the event from taking place by entering onto the stage, grabbing the microphone from the moderator, and yelling at Milo Yiannopoulos.

    The Aftermath of the Event

    • The morning after the event, President Holtschneider writing from France, issued a statement to the University community apologizing to the College Republicans for the disruption of their event, and expressing his shame for DePaul for the actions of the student protesters. According to Holtschneider:Yesterday’s speaker was invited to speak at DePaul, and those who interrupted the speech were wrong to do so. Universities welcome speakers, give their ideas a respectful hearing, and then respond with additional speech countering the ideas. I was ashamed for DePaul University when I saw a student rip the microphone from the hands of the conference moderator and wave it in the face of our speaker.
    • Within hours of the event, student protesters, and faculty and staff who had not taken part in the protest, but who teach courses or administer programs related to race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual identity, were targeted with malice and threats online and through email and voice mail.
    • President Holtschneider’s message to the community was followed by eight days of deafening silence. This silence had a chilling and alienating effect on the community of African descent, and communicated a lack of concern about the assaults that students, and faculty and staff were experiencing.
    • On Thursday, May 26, 2016, after receiving reports that many students were afraid to venture outside their dorms, Pastor Keith Baltimore and Farrad Deberry established an escort service, Walk with Me, which sought to assure safe passage for members of the community of African descent. Within one hour, 112 students signed up to participate in the service.
    • On Thursday, May 26, two days after the incident, the University received multiple reports of a noose found on the Lincoln Park campus. According to a campus alert:
      • “Late this afternoon we received multiple reports that a noose – a horrific symbol of racist intimidation – was found on the Lincoln Park campus.”
    • Still, there was silence from the President, despite numerous appeals from students, faculty and staff of African descent, calling on him to address the matter.
    • On Wednesday, June 1, 2016, students dropped banners from the railing in Arts & Letters Hall decrying hate speech.
    • Also on Wednesday, June 1, 2016, “a sit-in was staged and a Black Student Union town hall was held, in which students discussed next steps to prevent future harm.”
    • On Thursday, June 2, 2016, President Holtschneider finally addressed the University community, apologizing to those who felt “insufficiently supported” by the administration, and asking the University community’s help “in forming initiatives to address these matters.” In his statement President Holtschneider did not apologize for failing to assess, what many viewed as a high potential for dissension and turmoil. Nor did he apologize for failing to rescind the College Republicans’ invitation to provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, or for publicly shaming the two leading African American protesters.
    • Within the same hour, faculty received an information sheet from the Office of Public Relations & Communications, attempting to “clarify some of the basic facts of the situation.” The first item on the information sheet read as follows:On May 24, protesters disrupted an on-campus event sponsored by the DePaul College Republicans and featuring remarks from Breitbart columnist Milo Yiannopoulos. When Yiannopoulos led participants form the venue onto the campus, the event was ended as a safety measure.

      There are two disturbing and potentially adverse problems with the information sheet. For one, the point of departure in framing the event should not be the protest, but rather, racial tensions on campus and President Holtschnieder’s inability to correctly forecast the disruptive potential of the event.Secondly, the response to a question in the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the document, inquiring about whether the protesters would face disciplinary action, read, “The actions of student protesters who disrupted the event are being addressed.” This assumes that the student protesters had violated University policy, and were therefore subject to disciplinary action. It further fails to recognize President Holtschneider’s complicity in the matter, and the failure to abide by the University’s Speech and Expression Guiding Principles.

    Conclusion
    President Holtschneider’s failure to effectively interpret likely events exposed faculty, staff, and students of African descent, as well as members of other marginalized groups, to threats of physical harm, animus, and hostility. Perhaps most troubling and potentially damaging, in the aftermath, the administration has engineered a clever reframing of events that ignores its culpability, disregards the longstanding racial tensions on campus, and places blame on the African American protesters. Although framed as a free speech issue, the event was in fact a safety issue. There is no right to free speech that justifiably places members of the DePaul community at risk.

    We, the members of the DePaul University Black Leadership Coalition (DPUBLC), believe that Father Dennis H. Holtschneider is disconnected and out of touch with issues facing DePaul’s community of African descent, and we are not confident in his ability to effectively resolve problems affecting it.

    Moving Forward
    The University cannot rely on routine mechanisms, such as the President’s Diversity Council (PDC) to resolve longstanding dissatisfaction with campus racial climate. Moving forward, it is imperative that new mechanisms be created that more effectively represent the interests of students, and faculty and staff of African descent. To use a Bible metaphor, we cannot place new wine into old wine skins.

    Our expectations include but are not limited to the following:

    1. Creating a structure that allows credible representative voices to act as a conduit between the community of African descent and the President’s office.
    2. Dismantling the PDC.
    3. Creation of a V.P. for Academic Diversity and Inclusion. This position would be staffed by a tenured faculty member to focus on such issues within Academic Affairs. The proposed V.P. would work with senior officers including OIDE and College deans to formulate strategic plans to ensure prominent emphasis and follow-through on institutional diversity goals and objectives. Such a person would coordinate the work of the diversity advocates at the college level (see #4). In addition, this person will be responsible for obtaining information on how various committees, offices, and officers of the University (the CoC, the Deans of each college, the Provost, and the President) are meeting diversity goals, and issuing regular reports on the status in shared governance of women, faculty of color, and other traditionally underrepresented constituencies.
    4. Administrative positions (Diversity Advocates), staffed by tenured faculty members, at each college whose primary responsibility will be to further diversity efforts at the college level. Although encouraged, such a position, depending on the college, would not necessarily be filled at an associate dean level. However, it will be necessary to ensure that the authority of the position is commensurate with its responsibilities. It is also important that persons chosen to fill this position are chosen in collaboration with faculty of color and women in the college.
    5. Modification of enrollment management strategies and college specific criteria and practices, in order to increase the number of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students of African descent.
    6. An African American Center for students, faculty, and staff of African descent.
    7. A defined role for affinity groups representing diverse constituencies when the university makes a major decision such as the hiring of a Provost or Dean.
    8. Bi-annual town hall meetings between members of the Board of Trustees and DPUBLC.

    In conclusion, the University must be mindful that policies and practices are only as useful and effective as the will, courage, and commitment that accompanies them. We expect that the University will be more mindful and sensitive to the needs of the community of African descent, and we are positioned to do our part in insuring a better DePaul.


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