#TuitionMustFall: The Radical Black Student Movement in 2016 & Beyond

2016 01 14 Gus BSFR photo by Jeff Putney

Outside of the distraction that is the presidential election season, radical black students within this country have been reinvigorated in our fight against white supremacy and capitalism.  While some organizations are still ambiguous about their ideological foundation, one point must now be made very clear: reforms that are co-signed by colonizers will never provide the colonized of this world with justice.  As these moments mature into movements, we must all push each other to better understand the role that capitalism and colonialism play within our society.  As a radical black student organization, much of our responsibility to the revolution resides within the educational realm.  As we struggled throughout 2015 to educate and organize our campus and community, we were inspired by student activists in South Africa and learned an important lesson from them: angry and organized students still have a vital role in the liberation struggle.  Given the failures of our own university to divert from a disastrous status quo, this is a lesson of supreme importance for us as we enter into the new year.

The University of Illinois, much like the society it resides within, is a bastion of contradictions and perverse neglect of oppressed people.  This institution preaches acceptance and diversity, but practices fear and exclusion when confronted with ideas that challenge white elitist values.   This institution claims to follow a path of progress and social justice, all while receding into an abyss of neoliberal policies that distract and perpetuate injustices against the working class.  Thus, members of the University of Illinois system, just like the rest of our society, must abandon simple discussion for progressive brownie points and take necessary steps to restructure the institution from the ground up.   This means that there must be a complete redistribution of resources on both the campus and the community.  One area in which this restructuring must take place is the tuition system.

2016 01 14 Karen Olowu photo by Rochelle Nicole

As a for-profit (yet public) institution, the UIUC has engaged in the exploitative process of pricing-out black students and other historically looted populations via skyrocketing tuition fees.  In the last decade alone, tuition at the University of Illinois has risen over 70 percent.  These policies have contributed to a countrywide tuition-peonage system that diminishes the independence of black students while barring most of their peers from even considering college as a viable option.  Furthermore, while black people make up almost 15 percent of the population within the state of Illinois, black students make up less than 5 percent of the student population at UIUC.  Despite those numbers, UIUC has recently declared that, in the event the Illinois General Assembly and governor don’t fund the program this year,  MAP-Grant recipients, which many black students are, will have to make up the difference in lost aid themselves.  With the average MAP-Grant award being about $2,700, this will be an unbearable blow for many working class black families.

Meanwhile, scholarships, grants, and resource-strapped programs continue to be cut as UIUC brings in over $660 million in tuition.  A 2015 undergraduate student in-state tuition, fees, and room and board is an estimated $30,346; multiplied by 35,000 undergraduate students, it totals to an estimated $1.06 billion that the university collects.  Considering that the state cut only $36 million from the university budget, a substantial amount of that remaining total is pocketed by balloon-salaried administrators and other privateers.  UIUC will claim it is broke, but the fact remains that UIUC is disingenuous about its profit margin.

2016 01 14 Rally Crowd photo by Rochelle Nicole

Our focus must not be to lessen the impact of global capitalism on our system of education through reform efforts, but instead we must imagine and struggle for revolutionary changes.  For the revolutionaries within Champaign-Urbana, UIUC is a theatre within which we must boldly confront our oppressor on the topic of educational restructuring.

A modern example of radical opposition to racial capitalist control of education can be found within a nation possessing a profound history of opposition to white supremacy.  The educational system within South Africa, like the U.S., exemplifies the enduring legacy of Western colonialism. Racial inequality in South Africa is as egregious as it has ever been–60 percent of black South Africans living below the poverty line and less than half of black South Africans graduate from high school. In 2015, the South African government proposed a 10 – 12 percent increase to tuition at public universities.  Almost immediately, a series of student protests consumed the country.

2016 01 14 Rally photo By Khalid el-Hakim

One, the #feesmustfall action, successfully halted the proposed tuition hikes. A second, the #rhodesmustfall action, is calling for the end of institutionalized racism within South Africa’s schools.  Through these actions, the students of South Africa declared their right to affordable and anti-racist education. Like their parents, they did not adhere to the illogical “politics of respectability.”  They collectivized through political education, threw stones, set up barricades, and unapologetically demanded access to education beyond the stifling confines of Britain’s imperial legacy.

We must follow the example set by our South African family.  If the proposed 10 percent tuition hikes helped awaken the radical spirit of young South Africans, then we must view the student loan debt travesty that is occurring within the U.S.  as having the same revolutionary potential.   Allowing rich white elites to grow even marginally richer by exploiting students through tired liberal reforms will never amount to justice.

2016 01 14 Sunny Ture photo by Rochelle Nicole

Justice, as far as it concerns the cost of higher education, must be defined as the abolition of the tuition system completely.  There are enough resources within this country to allow for free education at all levels, but it will never be that way until we demand it to be so.

The elimination of tuition, like other systemic changes, must be a nation-wide battle that is fought on the local level.   As an institution within a corrupt system, the University of Illinois must be held accountable for that system’s ills–which it happily benefits from and perpetuates.  Like our South African comrades, we must dare to do what is right and proclaim “no more.”

Black Students for Revolution UIUC

Black Students for Revolution is an independent black student organization that is fully committed to building a revolutionary movement based on the self-determination of black people in the struggle for decolonization through intercommunalism and radical intersectionality. Black Students for Revolution stands firmly against the threefold components of racial oppression that dominate black communities both in the United States and black communities across the globe: political subjugation, economic exploitation, and social humiliation. We seek to build communities and institutions for oppressed groups, particularly the black working class. As black scholar-activists, we recognize our unique role in the universal fight against the common enemy of all black people, and seek to fulfill it without compromise.


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Supporting the Voices Inside: The Freedom Archives

“When the prison doors are opened the real dragon will fly out.”

-Ho Chi Minh

The movements to end mass incarceration were re-invigorated in early September as a settlement in the class action lawsuit Ashker v. Governor of California was reached, a major step in ending indeterminate, long-term solitary confinement in all California state prisons. The settlement should result in a dramatic reduction in the number of people in solitary across the state of California and become a model for other states moving forward. (For example, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections, 2,300 people were in solitary confinement in Illinois in 2013, about 5% of the prison population.) The suit was filed in 2012 on behalf of prisoners held in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State Prison, often without any violent conduct or serious rule infractions, many for more than a decade, and all without any meaningful process for transfer out of isolation and back to the general prison population. In addition to limiting the amount of time a prisoner can spend in the Pelican Bay SHU (Security Housing Unit), of particular importance is the creation of a behavior-based system; prisoners will no longer be sent to solitary based solely on “gang affiliation,” but rather based on serious rules violations.

Central to this agreement was the incredible organizing that took place inside prison walls. The prisoners’ victory in this struggle to limit the use of solitary confinement was led by the prisoners themselves – by their ability to organize massive support for their demands within the prisons, including embarking on two hunger strikes in 2011, and another in 2013 that became the largest prisoner hunger strike in history with over 30,000 prisoners across California and the country refusing food! Their battle against solitary is a long-standing struggle to abolish a torturous practice that was designed to repress and attack the powerful prisoner-led movement in the 1960s and 70s.

The 1960s and 70s were a robust time for prisoner-led organizing and resistance. Across the country people behind bars were educating, organizing, writing, creating and theorizing revolution and social change. During these decades there were countless strikes, rebellions, and numerous other challenges to state control and the racist, inhumane conditions that accompanied imprisonment. These contributions inside were an integral element to the organizing that was happening on the streets during this era and the prison movement was vital to strengthening the theory and practice of liberation. An important aspect of the current struggle must be to learn from a previous generation. Some of the most vibrant voices of this period are contained in the Freedom Archives.

The Freedom Archives is a non-profit educational media archive located in San Francisco dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of historical audio, video and print materials documenting progressive movements and culture from the 1960s to the present. Offering a youth development program that encourages engagement with these historical materials and provides media production training, the Freedom Archives also produces original documentaries and educational media for use by schools and organizations as tools for community building and social justice work. Materials housed at the Freedom Archives include: weekly news, poetry, music programs; in-depth interviews and reports on social and cultural issues; numerous voices from behind prison walls; recordings of diverse demonstrations and activists; and pamphlets, journals, newspapers and other print materials from many radical organizations and movements. Many of these materials are digitized and free for use on the website.

Amplifying the voices of prisoners is a core value of the Freedom Archives. One of the primary ways we do this is by using archival materials to create educational resources that help cultivate foundational knowledge for understanding and advancing the prison movement. In addition to familiarizing people with important events, leaders and thinkers, and information, linking the past and the present allows us to expand our analysis beyond mass incarceration as just an unfortunate phenomenon or as the result of poor public policy, but as a key component of continued state repression. To that end, we have created short video documentaries about the Attica Rebellion and George Jackson and an audio tribute to recently murdered political prisoner Hugo Pinell (of the San Quentin Six) to help ground younger generations in how important prisoners have been and are to movement building and theorizing radical social change. In 2013 we published a book Out of Control: A 15-Year Battle Against Control Unit Prisons that chronicles the inspiring story of the Committee to End the Marion Lockdown (CEML), who organized against control unit prisons and related inhumane practices at the notorious federal prison in Marion, Illinois beginning thirty years ago. We are excited that the web version of this book allows readers to view, read or listen to archival materials referenced in the text and, if you wish, download it to your computer. This interactive resource allows a fuller and more engaging understanding as the primary sources speak directly to what you are reading.

In addition to our educational resources, one can make use of our digital search engine which allows for increased access and user-friendly exploration of our holdings. Inside many of our collections are the voices, writings, poems, statements and interviews of political prisoners. As the United States claims it has no political prisoners, our robust collections serve not only to challenge that fundamental untruth but also to illuminate and disseminate the voices of former Black Panthers and people in the Black Liberation Movement, Puerto Rican independentistas, White anti-imperialists, Native Americans, grand jury resisters and many others. Video showing the strength and determination of the women formerly held in the underground Lexington Federal Prison; statements capturing the unyielding defiance of Puerto Rican prisoners of war and the beauty and hope of political prisoners Marilyn Buck’s poetry are but some of the powerful and impactful content contained in the Freedom Archives.

Over the past 15 years, the Freedom Archives has become a national and international source of media of great interest to young people and students, but also to teachers, diverse community organizations and media outlets, filmmakers, activists, historians, artists and researchers. Our materials are regularly used in schools and as tools for community building and social justice education. As you find yourselves developing curriculum and lesson plans, consider including some of the progressive voices from our collection. Our full collection is searchable at search.freedomarchives.org. We also maintain an email lists that disseminate important news, updates and writings about prisons and from current and former political prisoners on our website. For example, we were able to use this organ to play a role in publicizing the state’s recent settlement as well as the hunger strikes of previous years.

Connecting lessons of the past with current political resistance is a vital task for our movements today. How can we best support the work that is occurring on the inside? How can we make sure that our work is consistent with the values and goals of prisoners? How can we most effectively disseminate their ideas? As we grapple with these questions across the country, the Freedom Archives exists as an important resource to preserve the past, illuminate the present and shape the future. As the voices inside continue to grow in intensity, we endeavor to support and amplify the power of the dragons that will one day fly to freedom.

Nathaniel Moore is the archivist at the Freedom Archives. He lived in Champaign from 2007-2011.

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The Perfect Cellie

I was recently asked what makes a perfect cellie. While there are, in fact, good cellies and bad cellies, for various reasons the only perfect cellie is an imaginary cellie. That’s because:
•    Imaginary cellies are never shut-ins. They leave the cell whenever the opportunity presents itself. Enrolling in school, putting in for a job, and going to chow, yard, visits, and religious services, are all routine.
•    An imaginary cellie will never startle you out of your sleep with a fart so loud you would swear he tore his asshole all the way to his ankle. Nor by shouting, flushing the toilet, or slamming the property boxes around.
•    Imaginary cellies’ shit don’t stink. Nor do their farts, feet, pits, or breath.
•    Imaginary cellies are never drug addicts. So they will never be dope sick, puking everywhere but in the toilet.
•    In fact, they never get sick at all. They catch neither common colds, nor the flu. Which means you never have to listen to them cough, blow their noses, hack up green slime, or puke all day.
•    Nor do you have to listen to every fart, splunk, and splash as they take a dump or piss just feet away from you, because they never use the toilet.
•    Imaginary cellies all have chronic alopecia and are thus bald over their entire bodies, with no hair to shed around the cell.
•    Nor do they have OCD. They don’t spend 8-10 hours per day in your way cleaning things that are already immaculate.
•    In fact, they don’t have any mental health problems at all. Or, if they do, they have the gold standard in health insurance and are perfectly treated or medicated, so it is unnoticeable. You will never have to fight or physically restrain an imaginary cellie because he becomes irrationally violent due to his untreated bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.
•    Imaginary cellies keep their mouths shut. They don’t inform on you to the guards or internal affairs, and don’t tell others your personal business. They don’t try to listen in on your phone calls or read your mail.
•    An imaginary cellie does no laundry, so he will never hang it all over the cell encumbering you from using the door or toilet.
•    Imaginary cellies aren’t prima donnas. You won’t see them shaving, lining, brushing, etc., their hair for hours on end every day.
•    Nor are they pack rats. They never clutter up the cell with unnecessary property, making a confined space even more suffocating.
•    An imaginary cellie is always fit. He is never some delusional fat bastard who “works out” for six hours straight without breaking a sweat, thinks he is “swole,” and spends the rest of the day stuffing his face with a hundred times the calories he could have possibly burned while facilely swinging his arms during his “workout.”
•    Imaginary cellies aren’t leeches or thieves. Nor are they incarcerated for being perverts, rapists, or child molesters.
•    An imaginary cellie stays busy. He has too much to do to be wasting time staring at you while you brush your teeth.
•    Imaginary cellies fight for their freedom and their rights. They don’t willingly accept a lifetime of incarceration and overly-oppressing living conditions.
•    They are goal-oriented, trying to accomplish as much as possible with however many grains of sand remaining in their hourglass.

In reality, there is no perfect cellie. (That is, unless, you’re going to drop Scarlett Johansson into my cell for a couple of hours after hypnotizing her to be madly in love with me, and escort her out before I have to hear her take a dump.) Human beings did not evolve a mechanism to cope with being locked in a bathroom with one stranger after another, 22-24 hours per day, for decades on end. People need privacy. Often we even need a break from people we love. Now imagine being unable to take a break from someone you hate. Incarcerated people are constantly forced to deal with strangers in an overly intimate environment, grapple with each other’s differing hygiene standards, likes and dislikes, racisms and prejudices, mental health issues, and more. For those with life-without-parole sentences or their numerical equivalent, this is a decades-long torture unto death.

Joseph DoleJoseph Dole is currently serving a life-without-parole sentence at Stateville Correctional Center. He spent nearly a decade of his life in the notorious Tamms Supermax Prison in complete isolation. He is author of the book, A Costly American Hatred.

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How Champaign’s Segregated North End was Created 1940 – 1960

Housing discrimination does not just happen. It is created. And it results in poor race relations in all other areas of community living. Champaign-Urbana’s housing history is a history of racially restrictive covenants, segregated separate and unequal housing stock and access, plus different institutional and individual local gatekeepers – UIUC, local public housing authority, real estate agents, lending institution agents, and property owners and managers. These are all too similar to those widely documented elsewhere nationally.

Locally, oral histories, newspaper articles, and other period reports overwhelmingly show that the dual housing market in CU did not evolve by chance. It was not the result of natural variation in income level. It was not the personal preferences of local African-American residents. Instead, white CU residents, whether acting as individuals or as members of institutions, deliberately confined black residents to a tiny parcel of space in the North End of Champaign-Urbana. The residential segregation that exists today in CU was originally created by a combination of racially restrictive covenants, university housing policy, and local white residents’ racism.

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Kenneth Stratton and Romeo Green, Jr., from Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive for Cultural Diversity

Restrictive Covenants 

Racially restrictive covenants were the primary legal instrument used to limit African-Americans’ housing options nationally before 1948. The local League of Women Voters reported that between 1940 and 1968 the African-American population of Champaign more than quadrupled in size. In her 1990 dissertation on race relations in CU between 1945 and 1962, Carrie Frank reported that between 1941 and 1950, 18 racially restrictive covenants were written into new subdivision deeds in Champaign County. These 18 covenants affected 774 total parcels of land: 65 in Rantoul, 50 near Savoy, and a whopping 587 in CU.

All of the covenants were worded in the most restrictive legal terms possible for similar statutes at the time, both in terms of racial designation affected and duration: “no part thereof will be sold or leased, either in whole or in part, to or permitted to be occupied as owner, or tenant by any person or persons not of the Caucasian race.”

Unfortunately, it was not until 1948 that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the race covenant as unconstitutional and legally unenforceable. Even then, between 1948 and 1950 more racially restrictive covenants were recorded in Champaign County. Thus, as the African-American population increased through the 1940s and 1950s, all were legally required to live on the outskirts of town in what became the “North End.”

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Kenneth Stratton and Romeo Green, Jr., from Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive for Cultural Diversity

Black Student Housing

The University of Illinois’ student housing policies created “town and gown” relationships built along real estate speculation and market advantage, which together promoted and reinforced segregation in the larger community. According to a study of university housing from 1867-1967, local real estate speculators understood that “rooming houses and boarding houses would be needed. Therefore, money was to be made in real estate rather than in education.” As a former head of housing wrote, from 1880 to 1918, UIUC’s housing policy was not to own any student housing, instead “depending almost entirely on the Champaign-Urbana community to provide the food and shelter its students required.” By the 1940s, UIUC only housed 7% of its students. The university only served the housing needs of white students, and in virtually all official housing documents before 1945, the housing needs of black students were never even mentioned.

As UIUC housing historian Charles Sifferd put it, “enrollment in the University was contingent on whether or not one could find housing.” As late as 1965, the UIUC Housing Review Committee stated that “about 52% of spaces in uncertified homes and 80% of the apartments that were offered to students through the Housing Division listing service before March 1965 [we]re not listed [afterwards] because of the operator’s failure to sign the pledge of nondiscrimination.” Local real estate and university gatekeepers combined to force African-American UIUC students during these years to fend for themselves to find housing.

2016 01 12 shack

Kenneth Stratton and Romeo Green, Jr., from Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive for Cultural Diversity

Between 1940 and 1950, CU’s population increased 37%. Lack of sufficient postwar housing supply meant overcrowding, use of basements and attics, conversions of sheds, garages, and chicken coops, plus many tar-paper shanties. Overall, housing was over-crowded, dilapidated, rents were high, and discrimination against women, and most severely, African-Americans, was rampant.

Shack Study

In 1949, the League of Women Voters performed a “Shack Study” that investigated African-American housing in the North End. Of a random sample of 85 “shacks,” less than a third, or 27, had inside faucets. The average room size was half the size of the smallest room in a house of standard construction in CU at the time. Only 18 dwellings had inside toilets. Outdoor privies, often shared with neighbors, were used by occupants of more than half of these shacks, sometimes requiring an extra four or five dollars a month in rent. Nine shacks had no toilet facilities whatsoever. When asked how waste disposal was managed, one of the occupants replied, “we just wait until dark and go out in the yard.” In 1953, two local children were killed in a shack fire resulting from the structure burning so rapidly they could not escape.

2016 01 12 shack 2

Kenneth Stratton and Romeo Green, Jr., from Doris K. Wylie Hoskins Archive for Cultural Diversity

Neighborhood conditions in the North End were similarly abysmal. There were unpaved streets and no sewage disposal or garbage collection. The unpaved streets became muddy, and private garbage collectors claimed they could not drive their heavy trucks over the unpaved streets to collect any garbage. City ordinances that forbade such neglect were not enforced in the North End. Both Urbana and Champaign had regulations for the construction and maintenance of privies, but neither had inspection requirements to ensure compliance. As late as 1968 the Public Health Department acknowledged the high degree of communicable diseases in the area as a result of such conditions, yet despite having “the authority to condemn dwellings, [they] consider[ed] it impossible to exercise this authority when there [wa]s no place for people to move.” Social workers noted tensions in families living under makeshift conditions, as well as lowered physical stamina and spread of disease.

Racist stereotypes and circular reasoning produced and reproduced such documented conditions. In a 1947 book, two sociologists explained how housing segregation worked in Northern cities: “the race restrictive covenant is significant not only as a legal instrument limiting the housing supply and defining residential racial segregation, but also because its use brings into existence a body of social practice, attitudes and policy having a detrimental effect upon the character of race relations for the total community.” In turn, these policies and practices combined to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of black inferiority: “for the mass of white citizens, if they give the matter any thought at all, the unsightly appearance of the overcrowded Negro areas is sufficient evidence of carelessness, neglect and a disregard for the upkeep of property; and these are cited as racial traits.” Thus, these inferior “traits” of the designated section of town then “become the reason for public insistence that Negroes continue to live in it.” This description provides the relevant socio-historical lens to understand the history of housing discrimination in CU.

Residential segregation is perpetuated in the United States through the everyday activities and social norms of individuals as much as by legal statute. Together with the formal practices of institutions, the informal actions of people attempting to preserve the local culture of their neighborhoods plays a major part in the systemic violence of racism. Although after 1950 no new race covenants were filed, segregated housing arrangements in CU have nonetheless persisted. Extraordinarily harmful racial stereotyping based on residential neighborhood conditions continues to haunt CU to this day.

First in a series.

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Natalie Prochaska is an urban planning consultant who specializes in diversity and inclusion issues related to housing provision and community development and a CU native. She currently divides her time between Illinois and Europe and enjoys being a volunteer with grassroots anti-incarceration efforts in Champaign.

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UI Students of Color Report Harassment, Threats and Criminalization

Last November, Black Students for Revolution organized a “Black Student Solidarity Rally” with the purpose “simply to show that Black students at UIUC stand in solidarity with Black students across the country.” Not long after, Black students and activists who participated in the rally experienced a racist backlash. Social media apps such as Yik Yak showed messages describing the rally as “Black people chimping out.” A Facebook page called “Illini White Students Union” posted intimidating messages, along with this invitation: “Feel free to send in pictures you take of any black protestors on the quad so we know who anti-whites are.” Since then the page has changed its name to “Illinois White Student Union” and has gathered over 6,000 likes.

2016 01 12 RMA classroom cover

In relation to the overall racial campus climate, these events contribute to an atmosphere of over-policing, hostility and surveillance of students of color, an atmosphere amply documented by the University of Illinois Racial Microaggression Research Project in their latest report Racial Microaggressions@University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign: Voices of Students of Color in the Classroom. Drawing from data gathered in an online survey that received over 4,500 responses from students of color attending the University of Illinois in 2011–2012, the survey revealed that, almost anywhere in and around campus, students of color regularly face racist slurs and verbal and physical threats, and are often assumed to be criminals by police, students, staff, faculty and community members.

Students of color reported hearing students speak in threatening ways or tell others to attack them. At a local bar, a student reported hearing someone declare that if they “saw another [n-word] in this city that they would bring their pistol and shoot them.” An Asian female student reported being chased by a group in the park as they said to each other, “Hey, it’s an Asian! Get her!” And an Asian male student wrote, “[he] told me he was going to kill me and made a gun with his fingers to signify him shooting me.”

Students of color described feeling “unsafe” and “offended” after seeing “KKK spray-painted stamps” on sidewalks around campus. Similarly, the vandalizing of cultural houses is a catalyst of fear for others on campus. Still other students experienced verbal harassment, which instilled fear and raised concerns about safety on campus. One African American woman reported being verbally harassed while waiting for a ride after an evening class:

While I was waiting outside after my class ended at 10 pm, a group of 10–15 white men walked up to me yelling and shouting. I ignored them and did not make eye contact. One guy asked me if I was stupid because the bus wasn’t coming. I asked them to please leave me alone. The group started to walk away and then someone yelled out “[the n-word].” My hands started to shake, and I started to cry because I felt so disrespected. I stayed calm until my ride came to pick me up and cried for the next two days. After that, I avoided large groups of white men, by crossing the street or walking faster. I also avoid walking near or visiting frat houses.

In addition to threats, students of color also described how others often assume they are criminal in and around campus. One African American male student recounts other students “locking doors when I pass by, or look away scared when they see me at night or rather stand up on the bus instead of sitting in the seat next to me.” This fear and criminalization of the student of color pervades classrooms. Students reported that frequently their classmates say that Black and Latinos “commit the majority of crimes,” or “are all drug dealers.” One student shared this: “My roommate…was attacked anonymously by a classmate. The classmate had written on her paper…‘Mexicans don’t deserve to go to college because all they’re good for is gang banging and drug dealing.’”

Latino and African American male students also reported being watched by police, and often stopped to show identification. A Latino student stated, “A cop slowed down and stared me down while I was walking down Green St.” An African American male student reported that a “police officer completed a U-turn to block the path of me and a friend walking late at night during the holiday break. He demanded our IDs and when we questioned his reasoning, he threatened to give us a jaywalking ticket if we didn’t just cooperate with him.”

Students of color often must show identification in order to disarm the suspicion of others around them. One multiracial student reported, “I was sitting…with my friend at night. My friend is a white guy, and the other people who were in the space happened to be white as well. A security guard came up and asked if I could show…my ID. After showing… mine, [the guard] left. No questions to anyone else in the room.”

African American males also describe instances of “fitting the description,” excessive use of force, and racial profiling. The following examples from African American male students illustrate this point. One wrote, “I was racially profiled by police and had my car searched for drugs.” Another reported, “The police almost shot me because they thought I had a gun.” Similarly, another African American male student stated, “I was held [at] gun point and put to the ground by police because I fit a description of a suspect.”

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As in other spaces, the campus is a space where the dominant culture ascribes an identity onto persons of color. As the survey shows, students of color feel under surveillance on the UIUC campus, where their racialized bodies are in fact policed. These everyday experiences are similar to what Frantz Fanon characterized as a sense of being “walled in.” In Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon wrote the following about the experience of racialization:

I am the slave not of “the idea” that others have of me but of my appearance…I move slowly in the world, accustomed now to seek no longer for upheaval. I progress by crawling. And already I am being dissected under white eyes, the only real eyes. I am fixed. Having adjusted their microtomes, they objectively cut away slices of my reality. I am laid bare. I feel, I see in those white faces that it is not a new man who has come in, but a new kind of man, a new genus…I slip into corners, and my long antennae pick up the catch-phrases strewn over the surface of things…I slip into corners, I strive for anonymity, for invisibility. Look, I will accept the lot, as long as no one notices me!

At Illinois, Black students refuse this urge to be invisible; they appear every day; they go about studying, researching, teaching, organizing and caring. They appear with beautiful fury in solidarity rallies, disrupting the racist gaze, challenging entrenched assumptions, transforming the campus into a contested space of multiple visible publics and embodying ideals of Black liberation.

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Efadul Huq is a graduate student in Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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Stacy Harwood is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Ruby Mendenhall - professor of African-American Studies

Ruby Mendenhall is an Associate Professor in Sociology, African American Studies, Urban and Regional Planning, and Social Work at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is also an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology and the Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

Professors Harwood and Mendenhall are co-Principal Investigators and Efad is a research assistant for the Racial Microaggressions Research Project at the University of Illinois. Our aim is to contribute to scholarly literature about racial microaggressions, to educate the campus community about the negative impact of racial microaggressions and to network and share our findings at other campuses across the United States. Follow us on Facebook and Pinterest.

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Terrorism and Endless War

Terrorism is the use of violence to achieve political ends. Terrorism can be used by both non-state and state actors.

Non-State Terrorism

This is how non-state terrorism works: a weak group tricks a stronger adversary into defeating itself. Terrorist-provoked fear results in antiterrorist overreaction.

A classic example occurred in the mid-1940s when Palestine was under British Mandate. A (weak) Zionist paramilitary group blew up many British buildings. The British responded by sending in more and more troops to put down the insurrection, but they were still reeling from World War II and their military and economic resources could not sustain their overreaction to the terrorism. Eventually the British gave in and left Palestine, which enabled the Palestinian Jews to create the state of Israel. As David Fromkin pointed out in a 1975 Foreign Affairs article, if the British had not overreacted to the terrorism, the Zionist rebels would have lost. Successful terrorism depends on the overreaction of the stronger group.

In this century, non-state terrorists are doing spectacularly well using terrorism. Just as the British did, the United States is defeating itself in the “war against terror.” The Bush administration responded to the 9-11 attack by starting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that caused death and destruction to hundreds of thousands and toppled the entire region into the kind of chaos that nurtured Al Queda and bred groups like ISIS. These foolhardy wars cost thousands of American casualties and trillions of dollars. This was accompanied by domestic political repression and massive surveillance, which are costing the United States its tradition of freedom.

The Obama administration has followed the Bush prescription of trying to use military force to accomplish political ends. Obama’s drone strikes all over the Middle East have resulted in much more terrorism than that before 9-11. The entire Middle East has become a destabilized cauldron of unrest and war, just as predicted by Middle East experts before our invasion of Iraq. The United States now finds itself without a viable strategy for dealing with all of this and so continues to bomb and bomb and bomb. All this has resulted in the enhanced rise of the national security state here.

According to Peter Van Buren, “To such a ‘wartime’ paradigm one just needs to plug in new bad guys from time to time, which is proving an ever-easier venture, since each of our previous wars and conflicts seems to offer a remarkably helpful hand in creating them. In this way, radical Islam has proven, with Washington’s help, a worthy successor to the Soviet Union, itself once a superb money-making venture [for war profiteers] and a great way to build a monumental national security state.”

Our society is now foundering on problems endemic to the focus on militarization. As “defense” budgets soar, our inequality is growing. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our education system is being starved. Our citizens are becoming disengaged from public discourse. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, there has been a rise in xenophobia, right-wing extremism, and hate crimes, spurred by constant corporate media coverage of terrorism as an “existential threat”, which it is not. And our institutions, from elections to Veteran’s Affairs to the Secret Service to the Drug Enforcement Administration, are showing the signs of corruption that may presage a long path to becoming a failed state.

So far, Obama seems to understand that terrorism is meant to provoke overreactions and he has held the line against the hysterical militarists, neocons, citizens, political candidates, and pundits who are calling for more American boots on the ground, but a new president of either party is likely to send our troops in, and ISIS will then get its greatest hope fulfilled, its terrorism triumphant.

We have embarked on endless war because non-state terrorism is having its desired effect on states which have come to rely on military overreactions to all provocations.

State-sponsored Terrorism

This is how state-sponsored terrorism works: a powerful group keeps a much larger group under control through the use of violence.

Examples of American-sponsored terrorism abound. From colonial times on, indigenous populations were massacred and terrorized into retreating from their own lands. Blacks have been terrorized since slavery by organizations that morphed into the modern police force. In Our Enemies in Blue, Kristian Williams traces policing in this country from the slave patrols of the antebellum South to the murders of unarmed blacks by police officers today. Ta-Nehisi Coates has movingly described the resultant fear in the African-American community in Between the World and Me.

When it comes to state-sponsored terrorism, no country surpasses the United States. According to one study, “the United States most likely has been responsible since WWII for the deaths of between 20 and 30 million people in wars and conflicts scattered over the world,” and each of these conflicts has involved state-sponsored terrorism.

In this century, from “shock and awe” to drone strikes to bombings of hapless civilians in Iraq and Syria and Yemen and other Islamic countries, the U.S. has visited terror all over the Middle East. Our last two leaders (at least) have been using terrorism at an accelerating pace. In this century George W. Bush started it with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as drone attacks. Barack Obama has used more and more drone strikes as well as the air war in Iraq and Syria. These involve massive terrorism. The war against ISIS has neither stopped its expansion into other countries nor impeded its humanitarian outrages.

Secretary of State John Kerry recently said there is “no justification for attacking innocent people and bombing buildings.” Yet this is precisely what the United States has been doing in the Middle East throughout this century. Such hypocrisy of United States foreign policy occurs frequently.  But our language confuses this issue. When we are subjected to political violence, it is “terrorism”. When we subject others to political violence, it is called “defense” or “humanitarian aid.”  This managed perception is mirrored by the corporate media.

As Chris Hedges has summed it up: “The attraction of Islamic State … is that it articulates the rage felt by the wretched of the earth …. We in the United States are not morally superior to Islamic State. We are responsible for over a million dead in Iraq and 4 million Iraqis who have been displaced or forced to become refugees. We kill in greater numbers. We kill more indiscriminately. Our drones, warplanes, heavy artillery, naval bombardments, machine guns, missiles and so-called special forces—state-run death squads—have decapitated far more people, including children, than Islamic State has. When Islamic State burned a Jordanian pilot alive in a cage it replicated what the United States does daily to families by incinerating them in their homes in bombing strikes. It replicated what Israeli warplanes do in Gaza. Yes, what Islamic State did was cruder. But morally it was the same.”

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Picture Yourself Watching a Painting Dry and Loving It

Ready for a brain change? Try watching a languorous, lovely film. Skill is required. But like a meditation practice, it is worth the effort. Or travel the world through imagination and time. I suggest four vehicles below from South Korea, Japan, the United States, and Russia.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to travel to South Korea. In preparation I watched an assortment of contemporary Korean films and discovered a film with a setting so mesmerizing, so gorgeous, I assumed it was fantasy, but it is not. Yes, the film is fiction, but the setting is real, a small Buddhist mountain retreat in the middle of a quiet lake. The deliberate pace is signaled immediately with the title: “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” (2003). It is not snappy, but it makes its point. Divided into sections that follow the seasons, the film covers the education of a man from child to elder, and innocence to enlightenment. The filmmaker, Kim Ki-duk, wrote, directed and acted in the role of an adult monk who shares the mountain lake retreat with a boy in his charge.

The film offers lessons into Korean Zen Buddhist practices. The simple wooden structures are decorated in ornate yet weather-worn paintings. Gates with guardian-carvings signify the shift from secular to sacred. An oblique visual reference is made to sarira, the name for a type of pearl said to be found in the cremated remains of enlightened monks.

The first words we hear in the film are “Wake up.” But most of the story is told visually and through example. Expect to be surprised. Even though the film is quiet, suspense takes hold as we witness the way the monk guides the boy and then the man to a life of compassion after a life of crime. Many gorgeous shots hold the viewer spellbound.

Akira Kurosawa’s “Dreams” (1990) is another film that offers a great opportunity to slow down and tune in. At age 80, long after gaining international renown as a filmmaker with “Rashomon” (1950), “Seven Samurai” (1954), and “Ran” (1985) the Japanese director made “Dreams.” The two hour film is divided into eight fifteen minute segments, each a different dream. In style, they offer a kind of magic realism one would expect from a film that, reputedly, is based on Kurosawa’s actual dreams, but they are not scrambled the way night dreams usually are. Instead, each dream is more a fairy tale, fable, or allegory, and they tie together structurally. The same protagonist, representing Kurosawa, moves through each one from childhood to adulthood. (Watch the man in the hat.) Each dream carries a message. Many critics discern ecological warnings, and it’s easy to see why. Some segments are poignant — a boy apologizing to peach trees that were cut down — while others are nightmarish –urban devastation from a nuclear meltdown — but the last is idyllic, sending us off with a vision of an eco-paradise.

Notably, everything moves slowly in “Dreams”. How long can you take to pour molasses? Watching a film with this pace challenges our modern sensibilities. We have adapted to fast-paced editing and a camera always in motion. That the film is in segments helps. No need to watch them in a single sitting. Why even bother? Because they are beautiful and thought-provoking. Costuming, movement, color, lighting – all the formal visual elements are compelling and much like Kabuki theater. Look around the frame and sink into it. Fight the urge to fast forward.

My favorites are the first dream when the young boy follows foxes and witnesses their lush forest wedding and the fifth dream that features Martin Scorsese in the role of Vincent Van Gogh. He’s clearly a better director than actor, but the segment pays tribute to Van Gogh in a way many of us have dreamed of. We enter into his paintings. Kurosawa began his career as a painter and made elaborate storyboards for all his films. He clearly had a love of Van Gogh’s work. Thinking of “Dreams” as a series of paintings that happen to move serenely is a good approach.

One of my favorite films is not especially slow-moving but it is wonderfully imaginative and although produced in the U.S., it travels to 65 stunning locations in 18 countries such as India, Turkey, South Africa, and Brazil — a true getaway. “The Fall” (2008) directed by Tarsem Singh is a magnificent love letter to cinema and story-telling with universal themes of love and redemption. Set in Los Angeles, during the silent film era, movies are called flickers. The lead characters are a young Romanian girl from an orange-picking migrant family who is hospitalized with a broken arm resulting from a fall and a Hollywood movie stunt man, recently paralyzed, also as a result of a fall. I saw this film first at the Art, then during Ebertfest, and most recently on my television. Its magic has not worn off. Anyone captivated by old National Geographic magazines, silent film, and stories within stories such as “The Princess Bride” will go gaga for “The Fall.”

Another way to rearrange your brain with film is to watch “Russian Ark” (2002) by director Alexander Sokurov. This 95 minute film is a single shot. Yes, that’s right, one long take. We see the entire film through the eyes of one character. He’s medium height and never blinks. Even more marvelous is that we flow through the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and 300 years of Russian art and history along with 2000 actors in period costumes. What a trip. Note: this film is currently streaming on Netflix.

These films can be enjoyed in a variety of situations, but if you ever get the chance to see any of these gorgeous films on the big screen: Take it!

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France: The Power of Le Pens

The Left has done well in some recent elections in Southern Europe- in Greece, Portugal, and, most recently, Spain. But not in France. The Socialists, who are now in power, took a terrible beating in the December 2015 regional elections.

The Political Context

There are a number of reasons for this discontent with the status quo. There is very high unemployment, especially among young people. The social democratic Socialist Party has not been able to do much about that. Prime Minister Holland is an uninspiring character and there are few politicians in that party who seem to have the stature or the intellectual and political acumen of some of the historical Socialist leaders such as Jean Jaures, Leon Blum, Pierre Mendes-France, or even Francois Mitterrand. There are immigrants and their French-born children, mostly from North Africa, who are relatively poorly educated or trained and suffer the greatest impact of unemployment. Nevertheless, they, as well as the government, have often been blamed for the unemployment of French people with long ancestral roots in the country. And there is “terrorism.” Terrorism is not new to France. During the Algerian war in the early 1960s, right-wing terrorists, some of them associated with the French military, used bombings and assassination attempts (including against President De Gaulle) to try to prevent France from recognizing Algeria as an independent country. For several years now, there have been periodic attacks against Jewish people stimulated by anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian sentiments. And, in 2015, there have been terrorist attacks against journalists who have been seen as insulting Islam, as well as  against public places in response to the French government’s role in fighting what it regards as dangerous Islamic extremists in Mali, Iraq, and Syria.

Economic, racial, and religious based resentment against immigrants and their children and increasingly deadly terrorism have proved to be fertile ground for the Far Right party called the National Front (Front National). The Front has its roots in a long history of French pro-monarchy, fascist, anti-Semitic, and racist movements. The Front’s historical predecessor was the Action Francaise (French Action) which, after it was banned, “relegalized” itself by changing its name to Amitie Francaise (French Friendship). This organization was fiercely anti-republican. It was a strong supporter of the Catholic church and resented the secularism of French republicanism. Its members collaborated with the Nazi occupation of northern France, and with the puppet French Vichy government in the southern half of France. It supported Franco’s fascist-monarchical side in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s.

The National Front Seizes the Advantage

A good part of the reason that the French Left is in such tatters is the political astuteness of the Le Pen family and their followers. Papa Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is now in his mid-eighties, was affiliated with the Action Francaise when he was a law student in Paris. After that he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. After the “fall” of Vietnam from French control in the 1950s, he was elected to the National Assembly as a member of the Poujadist party, a populist right-wing group based largely on small shopkeeper and rural support. During the Algerian war for independence from France in the early 1960s, he served as an intelligence officer in the military. He has been accused of torturing captured Algerian independence fighters, a charge he denies.

In 1972, he, along with collaborationists during the Nazi occupation and the Vichy government, former right-wing terrorists who tried to keep Algeria under French control, former members of Amitie Francaise, and other rightists, formed the Front National. It was openly anti-Semitic and anti-Arab, except for the Algerians who had collaborated with the French to prevent Algerian independence. Le Pen was a constant Front candidate for the presidency, running in 1974, 1988, 1995, 2002, and 2007.

He did not have much success until 2002, when he made it to the second round of the presidential elections. Prior to that he had won election to the French National Assembly, to the European Parliament, and to a number of local government positions.

In 2011, Jean-Marie, then 83, left his position of chair of the Front, becoming honorary chair. His place as real chair was taken by his daughter, Marine Le Pen. She, too, had graduated in law from the University of Paris. She is an extremely gifted orator and has tried to give, at least outwardly, a softer veneer to the Front. This brought her into conflict with her father, who continued to spout anti-Semitic in statements, including belittling the significance of the Holocaust. He was convicted in court for some of his remarks. In August 2015, she engineered the expulsion of her father from the Front. The next month he formed his own political group. But the Front still has two Le Pens who serve on its Executive Board and run for office, Jeasn-Marie’s granddaughter and Marine’s niece, Marion Marchal-Le Pen. Marion is the youngest member of the French National Assembly, and the Front’s shining star, second only to Marine.

I contended that Marine tried to give a “veneer” to the party, because it is doubtful that its members have actually shed their anti-Semitism. But it does not play well if the Front is seriously interested in capturing the French presidency. Moreover, because of the context discussed above, she and her movement had enough ammunition without using open anti-Semitism, which many in France and abroad would find unacceptable. Indeed, after already pushing both the Socialists and the opposition center-right Republican Party (led by former president Sarkozy) further to the right, the Front scored a stunning success in the first of the two rounds of the December 2015 regional elections. They won in two regions, Pas-de Calais-Picardy, Marine Le Pen’s region, and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, niece Marion’s region. They got 40% of the vote in those two regions, and a national average of 27.7%. While this had been going on for some time even in the Communist-controlled northern suburbs of Paris, such as St. Denis, the Front pulled a significant number of votes from people who had previously voted Communist. Pas de Calais in northwestern France is where many formerly left-leaning people are unemployed and where thousands of Middle Eastern and African immigrants are amassed in the port city of Calais hoping to make their way to England. The Front’s anti-immigration and anti-Islamic stands resonated there. So did the Front’s casting of European Union structures and the open borders as undemocratic and destructive of French national sovereignty and France’s ability to control its borders, a casting that is more rational and has wider appeal than its racist xenophobia, although in real life they can converge in the minds of voters.

The Socialists helped prevent a Front victory in those two districts by a unilateral sacrifice. They had proposed to the Republicans that they each withdraw where they were weakest and throw their support to the other. When Sarkozy’s Republicans refused, the Socialist candidates (with one exception) nevertheless withdrew. Even without this, the Front might have lost those two regions because some people who had not voted in the first round voted in the second, and others who cast votes for the Front in the first round might have engaged in a protest vote and then changed their vote in the second.

But Marine will be back in 2017 in a campaign for the French presidency. If the very unpopular former President Sarkozy insists on running as the Republican candidate and gets the backing of the party, she stands a far better chance of winning the presidency than her father had in 2002. If she does win, France could resemble xenophobic, ultranationalist Hungary. Given growing anti-immigrant and ultranationalist sentiments in some of the other Western European countries, including Germany, that could help stimulate a drastically negative change in the face of Europe as a whole.



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Barbara Kessel Wins Burgess-Freiburg Award

Local activist Barbara Kessel has just won the James R. Burgess Jr.-Susan Freiburg Humanitarian Award. It was presented at the 15th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Countywide Celebration at Parkland College on January 15th. Barbara received the award for her work with Urbana Champaign Books to Prisoners and her many and varied other efforts since 2004 in support of incarcerated men and women and their families. Housed at the local Independent Media Center, Books to Prisoners has provided more than 100,000 books to inmates at 26 prisons. Hearty congratulations to Barbara!

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Announcement My Brooklyn

Kelly Anderson’s My Brooklyn will be shown on Wednesday, February 17 at 6:00pm at the Champaign Public Library, and on Thursday, February 18 at 7:30pm on campus in Plym Auditorium, Temple Buell Hall. The director will attend both viewings, and a q and a will be held immediately after.

My Brooklyn is a documentary about Director Kelly Anderson’s personal journey, as a Brooklyn “gentrifier,” to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood along lines of race and class. She meets with government officials, urban planners, developers, advocates, academics, and others. Only when Anderson meets Brooklyn-born and raised scholar Craig Wilder, though, who explains his family’s experiences of neighborhood change over generations, does Anderson come to understand that what is happening in her neighborhoods today is actually a new chapter in an old American story. The film’s ultimate questions become how to heal the deep racial wounds embedded in our urban development patterns, and how citizens can become active in fixing a broken planning process.

More info available at:


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University YMCA Friday Forum: Breaking Down Racism

Fighting for Racial Justice in the U.S.

Spring 2016 Friday Forum lecture series

YMCA of the University of Illinois | universityymca.org

The Spring 2016 Friday Forum lecture series builds on the Fall 2015 series by highlighting specific tools, campaigns, and changes necessary to combat racism and break down the institutional barriers to equality. Friday Forum is an initiative of the University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St., Champaign, IL. Unless otherwise noted, all lectures are on Fridays at 12 noon during the spring and fall semesters in Latzer Hall of the University YMCA. Free and open to the public.

January 29
Mothers Against Senseless Killings (M.A.S.K.)
Tamar Manasseh, Chicago Activist and Founder of M.A.S.K.

February 5
#SayHerName: Toward a Gender Inclusive Movement for Racial Justice
Dr. Brittney Cooper, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University and co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective

February 12
Panel on Local Efforts for Racial Justice
With Aaron Ammons, Evelyn Reynolds, and Marlon Mitchell

February 19
A Conversation with Opal Tometi, Co-founder of the National Black Lives Matter Movement

*Located at Allen Hall Main Lounge, 1005 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL

February 26
Reclaiming OUR Narrative | How History Can Inform Policy, the Change, the Future
Pete Haviland-Eduah, National Policy and Communications Director for Million Hoodies Movement for Justice

March 4
Police and Youth Relations, Bridging the Divide
Eddie Bocanegra, Executive Director of the YMCA of Metro Chicago

March 11
The History of African American School Achievement in the 20th Century 
Dr. James Anderson, Head and Gutgsell Professor of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Dr. Lorenzo Baber, Associate Professor of Education at Iowa State University

April 1

Complicity and Reconciliation
Dr. Teresa Barnes, Associate Professor of History, Gender and Women’s Studies, Center for African Studies and Assistant Professor of Center for Global Studies

Our generous sponsors of the Spring 2016 Friday Forum Lecture Series are: Anne Robin, Atmospheric Science, Black Lives Matter: Champaign-Urbana, Bruce Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, Center for African Studies, a National Resource Center under the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI Program, Central Black Student Union, Channing Murray Foundation, The Chapel of St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, College of Fine and Applied Arts, Counseling Center, C-U AAUW, Department of Recreation, Sport, and Tourism, Diversity and Social Justice Education, First Mennonite Church, First Presbyterian Church of Monticello, Friedman Law Group, LTD, Human Development and Family Studies, League of Women Voters of Champaign County, LGBT Resource Center, McKinley Presbyterian Church and Foundation, New Covenant Fellowship, Prairie Research Institute, The School of Social Work, Social Action Committee of the Unitarian-Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Speech and Hearing Science Department, UC Books to Prisoners, Urbana-Champaign Friends Meeting, Wesley Foundation of the University of Illinois, Wesley United Methodist Church, YWCA of the University of Illinois. Funded by SORF.

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