Student protests at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI have recently made media headlines including Inside Higher Ed, but the institutional racism and deleterious campus climate for students of color is far from recent. On August 25, 2022, Marquette students gathered at the New Student Convocation to protest the lack of institutional resources and support for students of color on campus. Following the protest, 10 Marquette students of color were charged with student conduct code violations, including violating university policies. Soon thereafter, they were sanctioned, fined, and removed from campus leadership roles including elected positions of student government president and vice president, and leaders of campus groups including the Latin American Student Association and the Black Student Union, recently honored with the 2021 Student Activist Award from the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.
Marquette’s new demonstration policy requires most protests to be cleared by university administrators before they take place. This policy was adamantly opposed by faculty and students when it was first introduced in 2019 (see open letter in The Chronicle of Higher Education). Faculty criticized the policy, arguing that it restricted student and faculty demonstrations so severely that almost any form of protest could be categorized as “disruptive” and thus the policy further silenced the voices of the most marginalized on campus. Soon thereafter, the Marquette University chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) was formed in 2020, standing up for academic freedom, free speech, and shared governance. AAUP members convened the chapter in response to threats of hundreds of faculty layoffs and permanent changes to university structures, policies, lack of transparency and, notably, lack of support for students, faculty, and staff of color.
SWS members are invited to be in solidarity with Marquette students of color and their right to freedom of speech as a foundational value of a democratic society. As educators, we value students’ voices and their right to act together in dissent – and to speak out against institutional racism. These events and concerns at Marquette are not isolated but are part of a long history of systemic racism against students of color across college and university campuses, especially predominately white institutions. Our institutions continue to recruit and yet tokenize students of color without resourcing services and staff needed or adequately addressing discriminatory and hostile campus climates. And in this case, campus leaders retaliated and disciplined students of color for speaking out against unjust treatment and lack of support.
The concerns and experiences of Marquette students of color Matter, and they ought not be silenced or punished. SWS members value raising voices of dissent because through them we clearly see the systems of inequality embedded in our institutions and supported by campus leaders across the country. Educational systems must seek truth and knowledge free of suppression, free of threats, and free of fear of retribution. To address social challenges and injustices facing our communities, universities must stand up as places for critical analysis, discovery, reflection, growth, humanity, and active citizenship. A community of scholars and learners listen and engage each other toward generative conflict; not disproportionate punishments that further silence and marginalize a community of students and a campus of support
As a community of scholar-activists, we call each other in, to be in solidarity with Marquette students of color and encourage all students and scholars across our institutions to actively support each other to make Black Lives Matter on our campuses. This call to action includes promoting social justice and change through education, activism, and demonstration aimed at eradicating the injustices on our campuses. We call on universities across the country to prioritize freedom of expression, social justice, care and support, and thereby social transformation.
- You can add your voice and your signature to the student-initiated Instagram account that has been started in support of the protestors and the petition demanding that Marquette University officials repeal all the penalties attached to the student conduct violations.
- When Marquette University leadership removed students from their leadership positions, student stipends were forfeited, and threats to housing choices, study abroad opportunities, suspension and expulsion were enacted. In response, a Gofundme page remains active and ongoing to help address the fines, financial losses, and looming threats of further retaliation toward the students.