Hundreds of Northwestern students protest racial mistreatment of maintenance worker
Northwestern junior Jay Jordan (center) and senior Justin Clarke (right) lead a march from the Northwestern Technological Institute in Evanston to call attention to recent incidents on campus of alleged racial discrmistreatment. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times
Updated: April 8, 2013 6:15AM
EVANSTON — Several hundred Northwestern University students staged a walk-out and march Thursday, protesting perceived acts of racial mistreatment on campus, including an allegation filed by a black maintenance worker.
Students gathered in front of the school’s Technological Institute and marched down Sheridan Road chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, racism has got to go!”
A trigger point, students said, was the treatment of Michael Collins, a facilities maintenance worker with the university.
Collins, the only black among 50 in his department, has alleged mistreatment, including having hot coffee dropped on him, and finding a stuffed black bear hanging from a noose at his desk after he “de-friended” a white co-worker on Facebook.
Collins was at the rally, but said he couldn’t speak on the advice of an attorney. He is scheduled to have his case heard by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission next week.
“Students hope to raise awareness first of all what happened to Collins,’’ said Sandra Garnica, one of the organizers of the event. “We’re also trying to correlate that this just isn’t an isolated event. This is a long history.”
At the protest, students charged that there have been seven major racial events on campus.
They included a “Beer Olympics” party held by white students with racist costumes; two Asian-American women harassed by egging and racial slurs; and a racially offensive article on affirmative action was published.
Garnica said a main reason, though, was what occurred to Collins. On Dec. 5, Collins walked into his office and “found his black bear lynched right next to his desk,” said Garnica.“This was the tipping point for Michael as he has been dealing with racism all the five years he has been working at Northwestern.”
She said students didn’t hear about the incident until January, because Collins, unsuccessfully tried to take his concerns through “channels.”
Garnica said sponsoring groups included For Members Only, a black alliance group on campus; Alianza, the university’s Latino-Hispanic group; an Asian-American organization and students just walking out of classes.
“I heard there were just random students walking out, and that’s just great,’’ she said.
Asked about student concerns Thursday, Alan Cubbage, a spokesman for the university, said that the university has conducted “a very thorough” investigation of the Collins case.
Because the matter is a regarded as an internal personnel issue, he said the university couldn’t release details at this time of the investigation’s findings.
“I think it’s accurate to say Northwestern does truly strive to be a place that is welcoming and inclusive and a diverse community,” Cubbage said. It’s a goal toward which “I think we’ve made strides and going to continue to make strides.”
Sergio Alvarez, with Hispanic Northwestern Alliance, said the group feels “the need to support the members of our community, whether they’re workers, students, it doesn’t matter. It was a very malicious act and as students we will not stand for it.”
Another marcher, Tracey Gibson-Jackson, who works in the student activities office, said she has had a good experience in her job.
On the other hand, “You never want to hear anyone being discriminated against in the work place, a place you come to every day. So I’m just hoping the university will have a really good response, looking into everything, and justice will prevail.”
About the diverse turnout, she said, “This is what community is. This is what you’re supposed to be. When one person in your community is disrupted it should affect all of us. That’s why we’re here.”
Meanwhile, Garnica said the groups behind the march hope to hold internal talks within the Northwestern community on the issues, and “also continue the dialog outside.”