News Local/State

U of I Forum on Black Student Protests Draws Hundreds

Audience for the forum on the Black Lives Matter movement and Black student protests at the University of Illinois.

About 300 people filled the auditorium of the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois for the forum on the Black Lives Matter movement and Black student protext. WILL Staff

Several hundred students, faculty and community members crowded two rooms at the U of I Krannert Art Museum Thursday night for an academic forum on the Black Lives Matter movement and other Black student protests.

The forum discussed not just racial but gender, sexual and labor equality, among other issues - with the  common theme of gaps in equality and how to bridge that.

Student organizer Karen Olowu, who was on the panel discussion which included several faculty and community members, said sometimes "that list" seems long.

"When I first got involved, it seemed like there was so many issues - not just racism," she said after the event, which had so many attendees that they ran out of space in an overflow room at the museum. Olowu said she felt the event was important for understanding freedom - and building community.

Graduate student organizer Gus Wood said during the panel discussion that the Black Lives Matter and related student protests weren't just about microagresssions on campus, but also about other issues of diversity, especially in regards to numbers of black faculty members and curriculum. Moore also talked about holding police accountable for actions on campus and the high cost of college education as another concern.

One of the organizers, community activist Imani Bazzell, executive director of SisterNet, admonished the audience to make sure that the student movement also considered issues that the city and its black residents were facing.

Panelists Gus Wood, Aaminah Long, Faye Harrison, Karen Olowu, Sundiata Cha-Jua, and Ken Salo

Photo Credit:  WILL Staff

During the question and answer sessions, students who weren't black asked how they could be allies of the movement. Black students and faculty members also shared their experiences.

“A whole lot of black students, staff - teachers - are scared, are anxious about their well-being and we wanted again to create a place where we could talk very critically and openly about what this emerging movement is all about," said one of the main organizers, U of I African American Studies Professor Erik McDuffie. "I think frankly I think we were successful in doing that.”

The forum was held after demonstrations were held at the U of I and other college campuses concerning the treatment and inclusion of African-Americans on campus. At the U of I, a “white student union” Facebook page criticized the demonstrations and was condemned by university officials.

Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson was also in attendance Thursday night. The event was sponsored by more than a dozen campus organizations and departments co-sponsored Thursday night’s forum --- including the U of I College of Media, which operates WILL and Illinois Public Media.