Backlash Over Student Group's Demands

November 21, 2006

Whether it's a testament to the organizing muscle of Facebook or the intense feelings about race issues at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, upwards of 650 people have signed an online petition reprimanding a group of black students for making what signatories say are unreasonable demands of the university's administration.

The Black Student Initiative reignited a race debate on campus earlier this month when it sent to administrators a report outlining its grievances, among them that faculty members have made disparaging comments to black students and that administrators don't communicate well with members of minority groups on the campus. The letter also accuses the university of racial discrimination in the way it allocates student activity funds.

"The campus reflects a false sense of diversity, respect and support for its black student population," the letter states. The author, an IUPUI student named Dominic Dorsey, ends by setting a deadline for a university response and threatens legal action against top administrators if the demands aren't met.

“This was destined to happen,” said Dorsey, president of the Black Student Union, a group that helped organize the campaign. "For years, we've been hearing reports of comments that make students feel uncomfortable, and we haven't received responses that make us feel like the victims are being taken care of. It's nice to convene a committee and create a diversity plan, but [the university] needs to proceed with action."

On Nov. 6, the day the Black Student Initiative set as the response deadline, IUPUI's vice chancellor of student life and diversity issued a statement saying that the university takes seriously the comments and allegations coming from the black students. 

Then last week, after holding a series of open forums with students, faculty and staff, Charles R. Bantz, chancellor of IUPUI, laid out the steps that the university plans to take to address the students' concerns. He pledged to review how student funds are allocated, open a multicultural center, hire a full-time campus diversity officer and evaluate whether to make mandatory a cultural competency program for university employees.

“We heard reports of hostile behavior and discrimination at IUPUI,” Bantz said in the statement. “We are committed to a safe, civil, hospitable environment for all students, faculty and staff.”

Roughly 15 percent of IUPUI students are members of minority groups, and about 9 percent are black. Figures from last year show that members of minority groups make up 20 percent of the faculty and 9 percent of "high level" faculty and administrative positions.  

Some of the 900-plus members of the Facebook group "IUPUI, We Want Our Money Back!!" said they are upset that the Black Student Initiative is demanding nearly $80,000 in student funding for black student organizations.

“We will not let our (or our family and friends') hard-earned tuition money and student activity fees go towards one organization. We will not promote further segregation at our school and we cannot stand by and let this happen,” wrote Areeba Farooqi, a student who started the online group.

Several students who posted on the Facebook page, including Farooqi, said they agree that a lack of cultural diversity is a problem at IUPUI. But many said they took issue with how the Black Student Initiative set a timetable for  the university, and with the manner in which administrators responded to the group's demands without seeking input from the rest of the student body.

Farooqi, president of the South Asian Student Association, said she is worried that if the university gives the Black Student Initiative what it demands, her group and others might see decreases in funding. Alex Baker, an IUPUI senior, said the black student coalition is "blatantly trying to take money from other organizations on campus that also deserve money."

A number of students said they saw the creation of a multicultural center as problematic. Because IUPUI is largely a commuter campus, they fear the building will serve only a few. "The current student union building is not 'white only,' " one petition poster noted. "I pay additional tuition because I am out of state. I do not expect my money to go towards something completely unrelated to me."

Farooqi said she supports the multicultural center and does not back some of the "inflammatory" comments that have been posted on the petition.

Baker said he is worried that the black students' actions are further polarizing the campus. Dorsey said that other campus groups have noted a funding disparity, and that the Black Student Initiative is simply fighting for fair funding -- and doing so in a public way.

Both Farooqi and Baker said tempers have calmed in recent days, since the campuswide forums have taken place. The chancellor and Black Student Initiative representatives plan to meet to discuss plans after Thanksgiving.

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