The African American Alliance (AAA), the black cultural organization on campus, occupied the office of the Rev. Robert Niehoff S.J. on Friday, Nov. 20 and presented him with list of 10 demands that ask for systematic changes that aim to eradicate instances of racial injustice on campus. These injustices that are detailed in their cover letter to the University’s president include feeling “repeatedly by administrative decisions through our years of enrollment, that black students do not matter,” the use of the “n-word” in interpersonal student interactions and acts of intolerance both in the classroom and out without repercussion, among others.
Overall, the tone of the letter echoed a sense of frustration amongst the members of AAA that University leadership does not seem to address matters of injustice as they arise, making the victims of intolerance feel unimportant.
According to the cover letter, “These incidents and many like them are never addressed on campus, showing black students how little they are worth to the institution. It is clear to us, by John Carroll University’s actions, that you believe these behaviors do not need to be corrected and are accepted as campus norms. We are taking a stand today to say that we are not numbers. We are not here simply to fill the diversity quotas and pose for photos. We are living, breathing individuals who deserve to feel safe and comfortable in this space. We will no longer listen to administration talk about how ‘diverse and inclusive’ we are as a campus as black students are not included in their thoughts and actions.”
The students’ demands include a student-led diversity committee, a black cultural center, hiring more black professors on campus, implementing more a effective bias reporting system, enhancing the representation of black studies and culture in the core curriculum and class listings, among others.
After the AAA waited in the conference room for a few minutes, the Rev. Robert Niehoff S.J. entered the room. Upon arrival, the 13 members of AAA introduced themselves and presented Niehoff with a cover letter and the list of demands. Niehoff left a formerly scheduled meeting to address the students. Due to the short interaction between AAA and the Rev. Robert Niehoff S.J., which was approximately four minutes, the members of the student organization reported feeling denied of time and dismissed.
“I know you met with provost Colleran and vice president McCarthy,” Niehoff said. “As you can imagine, I did that because I asked them to and wasn’t available to [meet with you]. And so we talked about how we could follow up, I thought they spoke to you about that [AAA’s concerns] the other night. But absolutely, I want to hear your story, I want to talk about what we can do together, and see how we can make this place better for all of us, but especially for you.”
In response to the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J., senior Tatyana Atkinson, Vice President of AAA, said, “A good place to start would be to look at the letter in front of you, that is what we feel are the most immediate issues with our campus climate and with us being black students on campus specifically. We ask that you make this a priority, we don’t want this to fall to the wayside.”
“You have said things, and those are great,and we have said we want to be more inclusive and diverse on campus,” Atkinson continued, “but from what we’ve seen regarding actions on campus, it is a lot of lip service and not a lot has been happening, so we want to make sure that these actually do happen, and that they are immediate and institutional,” Atkinson said.
Due to his participation on the JCU trip to El Salvador, Father Niehoff suggested that a meeting take place on the week of Dec. 14, when he plans to bring other university administrators to join the conversation. This meeting has not been officially scheduled, and AAA is waiting upon a formal date and time to be set. In respect to the list of demands, Mercedes Lewis, President of AAA, said, “In the quest for Black Liberation, respectability politics will not save you, color-blindness will not set you free. Continue to question the status quo and push the envelope. We will not stop until we reach equity and justice.”