As the tide of the racial justice movements initiated by students at the University of Missouri continues to extend to Yale, Fordham, University of Michigan and Loyola of Chicago, among others, John Carroll University is no exception.
On Thursday, Dec. 3, members of the African American Alliance entered classrooms unannounced and presented students in attendance with a list of demands previously presented to the Rev. Robert Niehoff, S.J., on Friday, Nov. 20. The African American Alliance (AAA), the black cultural organization on campus, occupied Niehoff’s office and presented him with a list of 10 demands that ask for systematic changes attempting to cease instances of racial injustice on campus. AAA is now aiming to have their message heard by the broader campus community.
The students’ demands include a student-led diversity committee, a black cultural center, hiring more black professors and implementing a more effective bias reporting system.
During last week’s demonstration, members of AAA spoke with students and professors, answered questions and invited students to participate in an open forum discussion being held Thursday, Dec. 10 at 5 p.m. in the D.J. Lombardo Student Center. In describing AAA’s reasoning behind disrupting classes, member Tyra Sadler said, “We wanted students to feel the way we feel in our classes on a day to day basis. We often are the only black students in our classes and we feel uncomfortable, which sometimes distracts us in class as well.”
Associate professor of political science, Sara Schiavoni, had her lecture interrupted by AAA. Coincidentally, the class was addressing civil rights and was discussing AAA’s demands.
“The students came in very respectfully and held signs that said, ‘we demand to be heard’ and ‘we demand to speak,’” Schiavoni said.
“[They] simply discussed their demand letter and asked if the students had any questions.”
“I understand what the students are trying to do,” Schiavoni continued. “And I appreciate that they have identified institutional issues and have offered solutions.”
Sophomore Calli Dieglio, a student in Schiavoni’s class, added her opinion. “There were maybe eight to 10 of them standing in the front of our classroom and then they explained to us that if we feel uncomfortable, that it is okay because that is how they feel on a daily basis.”
John Yost, associate professor of psychology, also had his class interrupted by the demonstration. “They respectfully asked me to stop what we were doing so that they could make their statement. A student in the class thanked the members of AAA as they left,” said Yost. “I’m 100 percent for it as I do not think they would be taking the measures that they are taking if they did not think it was necessary.”
While Yost and Schiavoni were supportive of AAA’s method of activism, Schiavoni explained that doesn’t apply to all faculty.
“I’ve spoken to some other colleagues and I think that some faculty members were uncomfortable, especially so close to finals, feeling like they needed to get through material,” she said.
Other members from AAA also facilitated conversations about their demands and asked department heads to distribute them. Associate professor and department chair of philosophy Dianna Taylor was among them.
Taylor said that, following AAA’s demonstration, she did research pertaining to other Jesuit colleges with black cultural centers. She found that not many Jesuit schools have them.
“I think this would be a way that John Carroll could be a leader among the Jesuit schools to step up and do something,” Taylor said. “I think it is important for students who are underrepresented on this campus to have their own space.”
“They are asking to be heard,” she continued. “That indicates that they are not being heard. To be clear about that, I don’t mean that they ‘think they aren’t being included,’ they’re right, they’re not.”
Despite this support, there has been some backlash following AAA’s demonstration. Students were vocal via Yik Yak, an anonymous social medium. After AAA disrupted classes, the app quickly became a center for negativity. Some posts included derogatory language and insults toward the organization.
In response to the negative feedback, Sadler said, “As people continue to mock us, we still stand proud and bold. We have not yet disrupted the peace and we are fighting for what we believe in.”
The next known step for AAA is a meeting with Niehoff on Monday, Dec. 14.