SIUE launches task force on fighting racism


SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook and Interim Assistant Provost Jessica Harris.

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has launched a new Task Force on Anti-Racism to propel the University forward to disrupt racism on campus and prepare graduates and community members to confront racism whenever they may encounter it.

Swift and decisive actions will be put in place to demonstrate an institutional commitment to its goals of anti-racism and equity.

On April 4, 1967, a year prior to the exact date of his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said these words that speak unambiguously to our current times: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

“We have heard the pain and frustration among our students, staff and faculty,” said Chancellor Randy Pembrook in a message to the campus community on June 12. “Emails and town halls will not be enough. Action and urgency are essential. This approach must be rooted in humility, truth-telling, critical analysis, reflection, and a willingness to confront structural arrangements and institutional policies and practices that reinforce racism. And certainly, we must all do the work of challenging our individual beliefs.”

The Task Force was proposed by Jessica Harris, Ph.D., interim assistant provost for Academic Equity and Inclusive Excellence. Working to support the establishment of the Task Force on Anti-Racism have been Associate Chancellor for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Venessa Brown, Ph.D., president of the Black Faculty and Staff Association Lakesha Butler, Pharm.D., and Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion Director Lindy Wagner.

“As the protests demanding justice for George Floyd reverberate across our nation, SIUE is called to unequivocally embrace its role in confronting racism,” said Harris. “In this moment, we recognize that as a University, we do not and should not function and operate apart from the communities in which we live and work.”

“Racism has no bounds,” she continued, “and given its far-reaching implications, we can no longer afford to reinforce boundaries that have all too often separated campus and community. The cost is simply too high. We must act, be a model for change and dedicate ourselves to shaping a changing world by enriching communities with a nexus to our campus.”

The Task Force’s initial planning work will begin immediately, and includes membership from the Alton campus; Black Faculty and Staff Association; Chancellor’s Council/Extended Chancellor’s Council; community individuals; East St. Louis campus; local government officials; SIUE Athletics; faculty, staff, students; SIUE Police; SIU System; University Diversity Council; Student Affairs; and Student Government.

The Task Force will focus its efforts relative to four specific areas aligning with goals 1, 2 and 3 of the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan:

  • Sustained and Effective Communication
  • Access and Success
  • Curriculum
  • Faculty and Staff: Hiring, Retention, Promotion

“The time for vigorous and positive action at SIUE is now,” Harris concluded. “Our actions must include addressing the structures of racism on our campus. If we are to truly realize our values of diversity, inclusion and citizenship, we must take on the difficult, yet necessary challenge to bring awareness to and address inequity at our institution and to lead the way in our region and community to a more just society.”

Presentations of the Task Force’s work will begin in August and continue throughout the fall semester.