Students voice their concerns and experiences at town hall


Gloria Gibson at the Spring Town Hall. | Photo by Francisco Sebastian

On March 5, the NEIU Student Government Association partnered with the Black Caucus and ChiMexLa to host the Spring Town Hall. The town hall, which took place at the Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) cafeteria, provided students with an outlet to voice their NEIU-related concerns.

Student Trustee Fatima Siddiqua | Photo by Francisco Sebastian

Student Trustee Fatima Siddiqua led the discussion in front of President Gloria J. Gibson, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Mike Dizon, Vice President of Finance and Administration Manish Kumar and the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dennis Rome. Also in attendance were various members of the Board of Trustees, the university ombudsman Tyler Smith and many concerned faculty members.

NEIU student Jonathon Wheeler raised the first question, expressing concern regarding the leadership symposium held in early February to address white supremacy. Wheeler noted that the forum lacked white faculty.

Wheeler said, “I think as a diverse university such as NEIU, it’s very important that all our faculty know the lived experiences a lot of our students face in as marginalized people, and I think it’s kind of shameful that there wasn’t a larger presence of white faculty at that event.”

President of ChiMexLA Liliana Armas Serna shared a classroom experience where her professor attacked her status as a DACA recipient. According to Armas Serna, the professor discovered her DACA status and proceeded to label her parents as criminals in front of her classmates. She added, “Professors are not held to the level of accountability that they should and this is the result. They’re hurting their students and making them feel unsafe and I know I’m not the only one that this has happened to.”

NEIU student Sara Galván Orozco addressed insufficient staffing and a lack of a designated center for DACAmented students despite NEIU possessing the resources for both. “We need more than just one person focusing on our needs and the resources that we have,” said Orozco. “We also need financial support and other scholarships.”

Concerns were also raised against NEIU’s financial aid office. Wendy Cruz, a first-generation student at NEIU, assumed the floor to share her experience with financial aid.

Cruz spoke on how she avoids the financial aid office after hurtful comments made by staff members, accusing the financial aid office of mocking her difficulties with financial literacy. She added that every department should be trained on how to communicate with students and be capable of supporting and providing students with resources rather than discouraging and targeting students for asking questions. Siddiqua echoed Cruz’s concern, stating that conflicting information from the financial aid office led her to pay full tuition fees.

Senior student Chantel Hampton, a student-veteran and President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., said that she felt discriminated against by the financial aid office and other departments despite the fact that NEIU is promoted as a diverse university. Mirroring Siddiqua’s operational challenges, Hampton says she was also charged for something that she was not responsible for before being informed that the financial aid office was unwilling or unable to rectify the problem. Furthermore, she shared how she was automatically cast as belligerent prior to explaining the issue. Hampton also criticized how the university exaggerates diversity rather than promoting inclusion.

Gabriel Can, President of Student Veterans Club (SVC), came forward appealing for a veteran’s lounge. He explained the need for a veteran’s lounge, citing the 250-plus veterans attending NEIU this semester. Can said that a veteran’s lounge would assist minorities, people with disabilities and others by merging veteran services with the proposed lounge to create a resource center.

Suliat Akinyele, Vice President of Black Caucus and Member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority came forward to raise questions for the faculty. She challenged the university’s stance as passive bystanders as students at the Nest drop out due to daunting financial debt. She also inquired over what actions are being taken to recruit black American students, why the cafeteria closes at 5 p.m., subsequently leaving residents at the Nest to travel door-to-door looking for food and why the student pantry is closed so often.

Eric Winslow, President of Black Caucus, added that clubs are charged more for hosting weekend events and the university should transition to being a 24 hour campus especially since there are students residing at the Nest. At the very least, Winslow suggested that the Student Union and Library should be open on the weekends or hold longer hours so that students, both at the Nest and commuters, can have a space to study. It was also mentioned that students have gotten desperate to the point of locking themselves in the library after hours so that they could continue with their homework.

Vice President of United Greek Council, Carmen Ponce opened up about her experience of being sexually assaulted by another student at NEIU. She said, “I had to go through a tunnel nine investigation, through the university tonight office, because I was sexually assaulted by someone on campus and I feel that I was not given the proper resources against my perpetrator.” She concluded that the current administration should become more responsible and make the university a safe space for students who have been sexually assaulted.

Gabriela Loredo, an undocumented student appealed to have services for undocumented students. She mentioned,” unlike DACAmented students, undocumented students have more challenges because DACAmented student are allowed to work, but undocumented students aren’t.” She further added, “undocumented students need mentors to guide them and have counselors who know how to deal with students who are traumatized because of their citizenship or immigrant status.”

Clara Martinez is an NEIU student who is majoring in Women’s and Gender studies. Martinez raised concerns about not being able to be a true self because of the homophobic and transphobic environment in the university. Martinez said, “Whenever somebody mentioned something that’s really homophobic or transphobic I don’t feel comfortable. We need more training for staff and faculty and we need to be a more neutral campus because there are a lot more trans people here.”

Appeal for close proximity drop service for students who live close by the campus that are in need of services during emergencies, better treatment by campus police officers, resolving after-hour access to campus by faculty and students and better mental health services were also brought up by students. A few from the arts and music department commented on the lack of diversity and a former club president stated her observations that the Council of Clubs, consisting of students in charge of dispersing funds from the tuition’s Student Activity Fees, seem bias when it came to funding clubs that they themselves are not a part of or have no interest in.

Following a contentious transaction between NEIU leadership and students, Cruz reminded students to participate in the climate study online. Rome thanked the students who shared their concerns and experiences at NEIU and assured everyone that the current administration will take action.

Gibson concluded the town hall by outlining two prospective budgets–one that remained consistent with the previous year’s budget and another with a slight increase, the latter being contingent on the passing of the Fair Tax Act. Gibson encouraged attendees to petition Gov. J.B. Pritzker to pass the act for the sake of the university, reminding students of her efforts to represent the students best interests during her trips to Springfield.