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Chicago students rally in the rain, demand university support diversity

By staff

Chicago students march for diversity. | Fight Back! News/staff

Chicago IL – On April 3, nearly 70 students rallied at the University of Illinois at Chicago to demand the university do more to support its diverse student body. This included increased funding to cultural centers, ethnic studies programs, diversity programs, increased Black enrollment and retention, and hiring more Black and Latino faculty. Despite freezing wind and rain the students marched and rallied for over an hour, chanting “We’re cold, we’re tired, we don’t like the admin!”

The rally was called by Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and endorsed by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Mexican Students of Aztlán, the Black Student Union, the Latine Student Coalition, Anakbayan, Students for a Revolutionary Union, Speak Up, and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

Jimmy Rodgers opened with a speech for SDS attacking the hypocrisy of the UIC administration touting its diversity, stating, “UIC holds the highest Palestinian student population in the entirety of the United States and yet when asked to provide care to these students the university begins to fall and fumble over itself to find cowardly ways to tell you that they don’t actually view these students as people.”

Abdal Alfawaqa from SJP emphasized the importance of Black and Palestinian unity, saying “Historically and presently both the Black and Palestinian communities have faced systematic oppression, from the days of slavery and colonialism to the ongoing struggles for civil rights and self-determination. Our communities have been bound by shared experiences of marginalization and resistance.”

Esme Vasquez from Mesa explained the history of the Latino Cultural Center and emphasized the hard-fought struggle of Latino, Chicano and Puerto Rican students to get it built. The cultural center, diversity programs, and the correspondingly high rate of Latino enrollment at UIC (around 29%) were only made possible after militant marches and sit-ins forced the university to construct the center in the early 1980s.

Citlalli Santiago from SRU shared her experience as an indigenous student at UIC, talking about the chronic underfunding of the Native American support program. She explained that, unlike many other diversity programs on campus, the Native American Support Program is not attached to a cultural center and is far out of the way of most students who would want to take advantage of its services.

Jeremiah Munoz from SDS spoke about the importance of increasing the number of Black and Latino faculty, pointing out the glaring disparity between the composition of UIC’s student body and faculty. Munoz stated, “Nationwide, we see this trend of underrepresentation in academia. Only 6% of professors nationwide are Black and only 10% are Latino, despite together making up one-third of this country! Here at UIC, despite the claims of diversity and inclusion, we see this reflected in a faculty body that is 60% white at a school that is 70% non-white.”

Munoz also spoke to the impact of Black and brown faculty for students of color “They serve as our mentors, as our role models, and as our advocates. They validate our experiences. They inspire us to excel in our lives. I want to stress that representation matters when we see ourselves reflected in our educators!”

Liz Rathburn of FRSO spoke about the importance of learning the movements of students and oppressed people in the 1960s and 1970s, stating, “We know that the reason the ruling class in this country is so obsessed with keeping working and oppressed people from learning their history is because that history is a weapon. All over the country students are learning from the victories and defeats of the last 60 years and building a movement that will win back those gains and keep going.”

SDSer Angel Naranjos ended the speeches, summing many of the speakers up by leading them in a chant of “Education is a right not just for the rich and white!” before denouncing the ongoing segregation of higher education. Naranjos raised the demand for increased Black enrollment and retention, pointing out that despite the population of Chicago being nearly one third Black, UIC’s undergraduate student body is just 8% Black. “In the city’s largest public university and in a city that is almost 30% Black – we think that this glaring disparity is an outrageous inequality.”

Naranjos ended their speech by demanding the university take material steps to increase Black enrollment, saying, “UIC’s claims of valuing diversity don’t have to simply be lip service.”

After the speeches ended, students marched to the main administrative building on campus, University Hall, to make sure their demands would be heard by the UIC chancellor. The march coincided with a passing period and hundreds of students watched as their classmates marched with the banner reading, “Education is a right not just for the rich and white!” Several bystanders joined as they marched.

After reaching the hall, organizers led students in chants of “Dare to struggle! Dare to win!” and “Fund ethnic studies now!” before finally dispersing to warm up and dry off. Organizers say they will continue to protest until UIC provides students with the resources and support they deserve.

#ChicagoIL #StudentMovement #Diversity #DEI #SDS