above: Jauwan Hall, UIC Student Trustee speaks at the MAP Grant Rally on February 27, 2016 (credit: Alyx Goodwin)
#SaveCSU: Black Students at Chicago State University Fight Back
by Alyx Goodwin
“Stand Up! Fight Back! Stand Up! Fight Back”
That was the rallying cry that could be heard throughout the Cordell Reed Student Union on Saturday, February 27, where students, members of Chicago State University administration, and members and representatives of Illinois’ state government came together for the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus-hosted MAP Grant Rally. Folks filled the student union rotunda to rally around Senate Bill 2043, a school funding bill that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has vetoed not once, but twice. Those in attendance were more than just their titles at this rally; the people that came together on this Saturday afternoon were Illinois residents and Chicago community members addressing the injustice being done to Chicago State University and the already struggling Black residents of Chicago as a result.
Before SB 2043, it was House Bill 4146, originally introduced in March 2015. House Bill 4146 calls for the governor to fund the Monetary Award Program (MAP), a grant program that many students in Illinois rely on to attend a higher educational institution, especially those at CSU. In June 2015, the governor vetoed this bill for the first time, resulting in the state starting the budget year with no funding for MAP. Despite the lack of approved funding, the governor’s administration continued to accept student applications for MAP. Two months later, SB 2043 was presented with an adjusted budget for MAP funding–an amount the governor had requested in his budget proposal. Again, this proposal for MAP funding was vetoed. Over half of MAP recipients are students of color and first-generation college students.
“I didn’t know my education was a privilege,” said Christopher Glen, CSU student and National Pan Hellenic Council president, “I was told my education was a right.” Glen shared his personal story, describing what it meant for him to not receive MAP funding. He is one of seven children in his family. Going to college, for him, also means being an example for his family and his community.
A sentiment that was expressed by Glen and other students in attendance was the juxtaposition between what they are told to do – go to school, be present in class, get good grades, etc – and what they can do given the barriers that are present between students and the pursuit of education. “The system itself was designed to oppress us, and we have to understand and recognize that,” University of Illinois-Chicago Student Trustee Jauwan Hall said in his speech to rally attendees. His speech directly touched on the systems in control and their intentional oppression of Black Americans.
“We have 49 correctional facilities in the state of Illinois, where Black Americans make up 50% of the population,” Hall continued, “and we only have 11 four-year universities. Black Americans only make up less than 15% of that population. Why is it so easy to lock us up, but it’s not that easy to get us into universities?”
House Representative Mary Flowers echoed these same statistics, sharing that when she joined the House of Representatives in 1985 there were 11 prisons and 11 universities. It is worth reiterating that there are now 49 correctional facilities and 11 universities. Flowers then cited a study from former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s administration (2009-2015) stating that, “if you don’t fund communities of color, you will need to pay for prisons.” As harsh as that may sound, it rings true when talking about education for people of color that live in urban communities. We are seeing now more than ever, the clear evidence connecting how governments use top-down strategies to intentionally disenfranchise communities of color, driving up mass incarceration rates of these same communities. Both Hall and Flowers provided factual evidence that backs up systematic injustices happening across the country, not just in Illinois.
We are seeing major disinvestment in schools located in urban communities and the long-term impact of this is obvious: youth of color, and in particular Black youth, don’t receive adequate educational resources. This limits their chances of that upward economic mobility every person in America is taught to strive for. As a result, they stay in these low-income socioeconomic brackets and neighborhoods that are also lacking infrastructure investments. In Chicago specifically, when there is disinvestment in CSU – which was described as an anchor in the community – there is disinvestment in its surrounding ecosystem. The larger media narrative of Chicago is violent, dangerous, poor, criminal, and Black. Rather than strengthening the pathways out of this oversimplified narrative, the State has forced CSU to hand out pink slips and has threatened to close the school completely, thus reinforcing the centuries-old notion that the Black community is not worth investing in.
The Black community in this country is overgeneralized and our personal experiences of being Black in America invalidated. The Movement for Black Lives and Black liberation has been combatting that, showing that our community is more than just negative statistics. For the last year, Black student activism has been gaining traction, putting our power on display, and combatting the generalizations that have been forced upon us as a result of America’s tradition of oppression. Black people have stood in solidarity with each other against the microaggressions and racist experiences that Black students have felt on college campuses, and right now we need to stand in solidarity with Chicago State University as it fights against an issue reflective of how the Black community is treated on larger, national scale.
Alyx Goodwin is a staff writer for the Afrikan Black Coalition, with her own blog coming soon. You can find more information on that plus her daily musing about race, culture, politics and whatever else floats through her timeline on Twitter @AGtheGiant