Bradley University President Stephen Standifird is apologizing and announcing changes after a statement he issued earlier this week regarding recent tensions and unrest drew backlash from the university's black community.
George Floyd died when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. Floyd, a black man, was unarmed and repeatedly told the officer he couldn't breathe before becoming unresponsive.
Standifird, whose sole presidency over the university began this week, issued a statement Tuesday on race and violence after rioting and looting broke out in Peoria over the weekend.
"The vandalism and violence that have taken place in our community over the past few days are an outcry against the systemic racism that continues to plague our country. At a time when we should be together to fight against a global pandemic, we are fighting each other instead," wrote Standifird in a message to the Bradley University community.
Standifird also called for "reaffiriming our committment to an inclusive environment" through open dialogue, empathy and kindness.
The statement quickly drew the ire of many current students and alumni, who accused Standifird of tone-deafness and trying to strike a neutral tone on racial inequality issues.
Many students chronicled personal incidents of racism or disparity encountered at the university on social media with a "#BlackAtBradleyU" tag.
Constantly being asked to speak about diversity and the black experience to white students who couldn't care less and always having to explain to white people why they should care about diversity #BlackAtBradleyU
— Watts (@_wxtts_) June 3, 2020
At a time where Black Americans are angry, hurt and mourning we are asking for solidarity and respect. My university has failed to do this. After students impatiently waited for the university to finally release a statement... this is what we get?!#BlackAtBradleyU pic.twitter.com/SP6fQIbadn
— Jo (@JosiahhBerry) June 2, 2020
This was like the worst part of the entire message. And it keeps getting reposted everywhere. This is why you should hire more people of color on your staff! It’s not a coincidence that there are barely any people of color that are professors/ faculty #HireBlack #BlackatBradleyU https://t.co/VNEZu4aw5o
— Charles Quincy (@charlesquincy_) June 2, 2020
The Bradley University Chapter of the NAACP, Black Student Alliance, and National Pan-Hellenic Council issued a joint statement Wednesday noting a "lack of support" for black students on campus.
"The school has taken little to no action to amend racial issues that occurs [sic] on our campus," the statement read. "Solidarity with Bradley's Black community is not optional. Your Black students are hurting and in need of mental and moral support."
The organizations called on Bradley to "stand with your students" if it truly values diversity and inclusion. The Bradley student body is mostly white, and just over seven percent black. About 30 percent of last year's incoming freshman class identified as students of color.
On Friday, Standifird issued a follow-up statement calling racial violence the real issue.
"I want to be clear: Racism at Bradley is unacceptable, will not be tolerated and will be addressed. Your stories demonstrate our past efforts in supporting Bradley’s Black students and the Black community were insufficient. We will do better," wrote Standifird.
Standifird said he was trying to promote a sense of community in the original statement, but "missed the mark."
The Bradley president announced the creation of a new Racial Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group composed of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members to guide future decisions.
He also announced lighting, technological, and other upgrades at the Garrett Center, which houses Bradley's Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and six new need-based, full-tuition scholarships for students in the Peoria Public Schools system, where black students make up the student body's majority.
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