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Urban Health Students Confront UIC Administration

By staff

“You don’t care about Black People”

Chicago, IL -“I feel about UIC like Kanye West said about George Bush: You don’t care about Black people,” snapped Lou Jones, state representative from Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. She was confronting administrators at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) about charges of neglect by Black and Latino medical students.

In recent years, the UIC College of Medicine has failed a growing number of Black and Latino students. The Urban Health Program (UHP) was created after protests in the 1960s because there were almost no oppressed nationality students in the university’s professional schools (Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Public Health and several others). The Urban Health Program is charged with recruiting students from under-represented communities – Black, Mexicano/Chicano, Puerto Rican and Native American. UHP’s other mission is helping them get through their professional degree programs.

Rep. Jones’ comment came at a Dec. 15 hearing held by state legislators in response to complaints from UHP students. At the hearing, Kadijah Kazembe, a fourth-year medical student and chair of the UHP student council, spelled out the students’ concerns. “The last two years in the College of Medicine, the retention rate is down and the attrition rate is up. This came after UHP lost two effective staff members: a skills specialist who was fired from UHP, and a recruiter who resigned under duress. And now, the associate dean has been fired.”

Today, the number of Black medical students at UIC is 9% at and Latino medical students make up 10%. But Blacks are 15% of the state population, and Latinos are 13%. On top of this racist difference, Blacks and Latinos are dropped from the College of Medicine at a higher rate. This has led to calls over the years for the Black and Latino communities to have more power over the UHP program.

State Representative Connie Howard also criticized UIC’s administration. She had chaired a similar hearing in 1998 after medical students brought complaints against the College. Thirteen UIC medical students that year had also filed a Federal Civil Rights complaint against the College. They became known as the U of I Nine because of the original group in the complaint. In that hearing, the legislators from the Chicago area had placed a number of findings on the administration. “I’m not happy to be right back here,” Howard declared.

The consensus among students and their allies in the community is that UIC only does the right thing when they are forced to by protests. Representative Howard was critical of the University because of the number of failures among UHP students, but also because she and the other representatives hadn’t been informed. “The University has to let us know,” she finished in her statement.

UIC Chancellor Sylvia Manning defended UIC’s track record. Currently the state funds for UHP are in the hands of the deans of the colleges. Dr. Arturo Menchaca, a member of the UHP Community Advisory Council, characterized this as “fragmentation.” He testified that the problem required putting UHP, including its funding, under the central control of the executive director. “We created the UHP executive director position, which was designed to be equal with the deans, but that idea has not been realized.”

Representative Monique Davis praised the medical students who had brought the issue back to the forefront. “You are following in the tradition of James Meredith, the young Black man that demanded entrance to the University of Mississippi in 1962. And the administration at UIC is like George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, who stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to tell Black students they could not come in.”

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