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Black students at Purdue disappointed by university's response to Black Lives Matter movement

Purdue released a statement on its social media in the wake of George Floyd's death. However it was missing one important thing to the students: President Mitch Daniels signature.

Posted: Jun 17, 2020 9:04 PM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Black students at Purdue are demanding more from the university. This is in the wake of protests across the nation.

Here in Lafayette people marched for racial justice and against police brutality.

"It doesn't feel like the university supports us," said Black Student Union President Ceouna Hegwood.

Black students at Purdue University said they want to see real change on campus toward ending systemic racism. Senior Brenden Drinkard-McFarland is going to graduate this winter with a degree in industrial engineering. He said he remembers touring Purdue's campus and that he was captivated by the beautiful fall scenery. He thought he could see himself at Purdue, but now said he hasn't had the best experience.

"If someone were to ask if I've thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Purdue, I could give every answer except it's been amazing," he said.

He said Purdue praises its diversity regularly, but the black student population hasn't felt much support.

Sophomore Jordan Harris is studying mechanical engineering. He said he has enjoyed his time at Purdue so far, but also agrees with Brenden.

"They say they want to make change and improve stuff but with only 3%," he said.

According to numbers from 2017, only 3.03% of Purdue's West Lafayette campus is African American students. According to the 2010 census numbers, 9.1% of Indiana's population is African American.

Hegwood is a senior studying brain and behavioral science. She said Purdue felt welcoming when she first came to campus. However she said adjusting to life at Purdue as a new student can be difficult.

"It's a hard journey," she said. "Even sitting in a classroom might be hard, realizing you are the only African American person in the classroom."

Black Student Union Vice President Christian Nichols comes from a Purdue household and knew he would come here to study to carry on the family legacy. He is a junior studying applied statistics, and he knew Purdue would be the best place for him to follow that path.

However, he said black students have to be prepared.

"You may have to be fighting like we are to be heard, to feel equal and to feel welcome on this campus," he said.

Purdue Trustees announced this week it will work to start a task force to address racial inequality this fall. President Mitch Daniels and other Trustees voiced their full support in a press release. It said they "agreed the University needs to look closely at issues across the Purdue system that stand in the way of the success of Purdue faculty, staff and students of color and other diverse groups."

The students said they want to see actions and tangible change.

"It's a step in the right direction I think but at the same time, if they would have listened to us in the first place we wouldn't even need the task force," said Harris.

"It can be a good step forward if we actually see results," said Nichols.

"I don't want to hear any more of this as we move forward, " said Drinkard-McFarland. "We plan to work together to create solutions, no none of that," 

"To me, that action means more than anything and I guess we'll just have to wait and see how that plays out," said Hegwood.

The university put out a statement at the beginning of June on its social media pages in the wake of George Floyd's death. It said in full:

"Events around our nation have reminded us yet again of the work that remains for all of us in creating a country where racism and bigotry are eliminated and where African American men and women, boys and girls, can live without fear. We are angered and saddened by the death of George Floyd, the victims who came before him, and those killed or otherwise harmed in the wake of Mr. Floyd's death. We hurt with those who are hurting and we pledge to continue to work toward a solution in which everyone is treated with civility and respect. Boilermakers must persist, now more than ever, to build a better world together. #PurdueTogether."

However the statement was missing one important thing to the students; President Mitch Daniels' signature.

"I think it's quite pathetic the statement they released," said Hegwood. "Especially as a school that thrives off saying they are so diverse and so inclusive. To me it hurts."

News 18 obtained a list of all 131 R1 Doctoral Universities across the nation.  The list included links to statements from the various university's presidents, provosts, deans of diversity and inclusion and other campus leaders. Purdue was the only one not to have a direct statement coming from its university leadership.

This is especially troubling to black students since leaders at Purdue have been hard pressed to comment about racial incidents in the past. 

Last fall, students demanded President Daniels address an incident where a Puerto Rican student's ID was denied at a CVS next to campus. The student showed a valid ID to buy cough medicine. Students protested asking for a direct response from President Daniels. Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. John Gates met with students in a town hall to hear their concerns. But President Daniels did not issued an official statement. He talked about the incident with a local radio station.

He also faced backlash for calling a Black scholar a "rare creature" about a month after the CVS incident. He did apologize for the statement.

And in 2017, professors were not happy with President Daniels' response to white supremacist messages found on campus.

In regards to current action, several other Big 10 universities have already pledged to make concrete steps towards addressing racism on their campuses and in their communities.

Indiana University said it will review all the named structures and buildings on all its campuses. This came just after it officially renamed a gym on its Bloomington campus after William Leon Garrett, the first black basketball player to play at IU and in what is now known as the Big 10. The gym was previously named after a former trustee who was a segregationist, but the name was removed in 2018.

The University of Iowa said it will actively participate in a local police review board. It will also conduct an audit of its university Department of Public Safety and establish specific training and operational requirements for the department.

Ohio State University said it will also participate in a local citizen review board of alleged instances of police misconduct. It's leaders are also taking steps to fight against disparities in health care in its community, declaring racism a public health crisis.

"I typically think of Purdue as leading the way," said Nichols. "Other universities usually follow suit behind Purdue so for them to not step up and take action and show that they have support and empathy for us, it's sad."

We attempted multiple times to contact President Daniels to talk to him about this story but were unable to reach him for comment. His spokesperson said the statement released on social media is the university's response.

Hegwood said the Black Student Union has not heard from university leaders yet about being involved with the task force, though she hopes that they do. The organization is planning virtual and in person protests.

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