Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

University vs. Students, Communities of Color: Say No To “Harvard on Halstead”

By Jackson Potter

Chicago, IL – While the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) continued its assault on neighboring communities and minority students, the Minority Student Coalition (MSC) organized to oppose the University actions. A rally on October 21, and a teach-in on November 17, challenged racist UIC policies, and empowered students to reject the bogus claims of the administration.

UIC has big plans for making itself into the “Harvard on Halsted.” It plans to do this by abandoning its urban mission, and disregarding the needs of students and communities of color. UIC has acted to raise entrance requirements; slowly phase out minority support programs and scholarships; neglect recruitment of students in city schools and minority faculty; and lastly, tear down existing poor and working class neighborhoods to build condominiums for the rich.

On October 21, the MSC held a rally to confront these problems, initiate greater solidarity among students and surrounding community members and to unite their grievances against UIC. Over 250 students, faculty and community members attended the rally, and many enthusiastically cheered the speakers.

To start things off, blues singer Jimmy Lee Robinson sang his 'Maxwell Street Teardown Blues,' which reminded us that UIC “may be big and financially tall, but that doesn't mean you can't fall. UIC that wasn't smart at all.” Maxwell Street was a neighborhood known for its diversity, a part of the city where many could come together to enjoy blues music and a street market. The University expansion has bulldozed the entire area. Blues legends such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker played their music there. Now empty buildings, parking lots and plans to build luxury housing condemn Maxwell Street's lively working class roots.

Rene Maxwell, of the Coalition to Preserve Public Housing, rejected the University's elimination of ABLA public housing units. The University demolished housing units without replacing or properly compensating displaced residents whose homes are torn down. Former Dean, Phil Roberts, spoke of the long legacy of racism that UIC has perpetrated. Though UIC has a long history of discrimination, Roberts noted that the current Broski administration is by far the most ruthless and destructive.

November 17, the MSC conducted a teach-in on the history and current rollback of Affirmative Action, and how to preserve it. At the teach-in, professors, lawyers and past administrators emphasized the ongoing need to combat attacks on Affirmative Action and related this to current struggles at UIC.

Professor of History and African American Studies, Barbara Ransby, insisted that the more than fifty participants recognize the importance of fighting for education as a right and not a privilege, and said the education we fight for should be of good quality. Panelists emphasized that Affirmative Action was a direct descendent of Executive Order 11246 of 1964 and that this was the thirty-forth such order to combat job discrimination.

Because creating real equality through bureaucratic channels is a long, slow-moving process, speakers emphasized the need to preserve and enhance Affirmative Action. John Betancur, Professor of Urban Planning, suggested that we look beyond the limited public policy of Affirmative Action and demand more expansive measures to rectify past discrimination.

#ChicagoIL #UIC #MaxwellStreet #AffirmativeAction