SIU students to hold strike against austerity, racism

Students plan to go on strike Monday at Southern Illinois University (SIU) because “things are so terrible here.”

The motivation behind the protest seems to be a combination of the fiscal issues facing the state of Illinois’ higher education system, and complaints of racial discrimination similar to those made by students across the country.

A group member going by Assata, who asked to be identified as a “queer, gender non-conforming” student of color, told the Daily Egyptian she left SIU just one semester short of graduation due to lack of funds.

The group has chosen to use pseudonyms for alleged fear of retribution, and because they say they don’t want the movement to be about them, but about the issues.

Assata ties the fiscal issues and alleged racial incidents together, saying she can longer picture a future for herself without state-induced debt, anxiety, and violence. She also says that students of color “have been a direct and indirect victim of racism from the moment they were born.”

A member of an anonymous group at the college cites protesters at colleges from Ohio to Puerto Rico as inspiration for the strike.

“A couple weeks ago I read that students in Puerto Rico shut down their university to resist austerity, in Ohio they were occupying a university building, and in France they shut down entire cities in response to a law reducing workers’ rights,” Pyotr, an alum who helped organize the protest, told the Daily Egyptian. “And I thought: things are so terrible here, but no one is doing anything. It's as if we don't believe we have any power.”

A series of racial incidents has also inspired the strike.

Recently, a racist video surfaced on YouTube—now removed from the site—which featured usage of the n-word and attributed itself to SIU's Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.

Alpha Tau Omega president Nolan McConnell denied that the video, titled "SIUC White is Right," had been created by anyone at his fraternity. SIU interim Chancellor William Bradley Colwell sent an email to the campus at large responding to the video, asking that it be taken down.

Similarly, one SIU student claimed that white students, some of whom are allegedly members of Alpha Tau Omega, used racial slurs against her.

They say on their website that asking “Why strike?” is the wrong question, and instead the call to action to challenge the status quo is better.

“The damage being done to us—economically, environmentally, through racism and sexism, and so on—is encoded into our everyday,” the group says.

Pyotr adds, “We started with dozens of people [who were] down with the idea of shutting down SIU for a day to change the conversation.”

Then, a graffiti incident in which several apparently pro-strike phrases, including the date of May 2, appeared on a building occurred, and the group was forced to come forward.

Alumnus Felix says the administration’s lack of action is one reason he organized a strike, while another former SIU student says that the city and the college are microcosms of “issues like poverty, rape culture, violent masculinity, and rampant environmental destruction.”

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