Events at Mizzou inspire reflection at SLU

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Events at Mizzou inspire reflection at SLU

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An update on OccupySLU and the Clock Tower Accords

VonDerrit Myers Jr. was killed by a police officer in the Shaw neighborhood in South St. Louis on Oct. 8, 2014. On the morning of Oct. 13, protestors marched from the Shaw neighborhood, north on Grand Avenue and then turned onto SLU’s campus. They settled at the Clock Tower and thereby started a movement known as “OccupySLU.” The phrase was soon trending on Twitter and became a national conversation piece. Most protestors left by sunrise; however, around 25 (many of them SLU students) stayed for five days to argue their point and to create a platform  to voice their objections to the status quo. Five days later, the administration and the protestors had reached a consensus. They decided on 13 points that would determine the university’s course of action on remedying the issues presented; these became the Clock Tower Accords.

In light of recent events at the University of Missouri, it seems natural to revisit the Accords. Has SLU effectively implementing them, and if so, how and where have they been implemented?

When asked about the Accords, sophomore Michelle Mereles said, “Oh yeah, what happened to those? They were such a huge deal for so long and now it seems like no one even cares anymore.” Her comment illustrates a dissonance between the Accords’ execution and student awareness.

One of the Accords called for the appointment of a Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Community Engagement. Dr. Jonathan Smith, a former African American Studies professor, was selected for the position. Since July 1, he has served as the President’s liaison for all matters regarding issues of race, diversity and community engagement.

When asked which Accords have been completely implemented, Smith answered: “Accord one, the Accord dealing with an increased budget for the African American Studies Program and accord eleven, the Accord that demanded my position be created have both been completed.”

Students may not see these policies being put in place, but according to Smith, implementing these Accords will take some time.

“I’ve only been in this position since July 1—the progress of the Accords was in a bit of a stasis because it hinged on the appointment of the Special Assistant so that there could be a clear sense of accountability, responsibility and priorities.”

He continued: “One of the first things I did when I started on July 1st was to make sure that I met with as many people as possible who are important stakeholders in the Accords. I’ve met with people in senior leadership, I’ve met with faculty, I’ve met with students, civic, community and corporate leaders, and members of the board of trustees, etc., all to really get an accurate assessment of where we are on the Accords.”

Meeting with everyone who has a stake therein, it has collectively been decided the best course of action is “to create four working groups which will each be tasked with implementing small groups of similar accords. The four groups will focus on Race, Poverty and Inequality, Recruitment, Admissions, and Retention, Public Art and Aesthetics, and Community and Economic Development. Each group will have representation from students, faculty or professional staff, at least one external stakeholder, and I will be a part of each working group as well. The aim is to have broad, open participation.”

Accord six calls for a community center. Asked whether the university had begun building the center, Smith frankly admitted they had not. “The Community and Economic Development group will deal with the Accords pertaining to the community center and the Center for Community and Economic Development. Our goal is to have those two entities be connected.  This is, of course, the accord that is granted the longest timeframe to be completed. If we had a site or a building planned for the center already, we would immediately be limited in the geography and the architecture of that space, which takes the community voices out of the process of creating the space.”

The seventh Accord, which some at SLU found controversial, promises to commission artwork upon which both sides agree. The source of controversy was the misconceptions surrounding the Accord. When one thinks of art at SLU, one might picture statues and sculptures, which led many to assume the artwork would be a statue. Some feared it would be blatantly anti-police or possibly depict Michael Brown, which made some people uncomfortable. “The main reason it became so controversial is that there were a number of interesting misconceptions about this Accord in particular from the beginning,” Smith said. “That Accord simply says ‘mutually agreed upon commissioned artwork, so it’s wide open, it’s vague. We essentially have never reached a place where we all mutually agree on what the piece of art should be.”

According to SLU’s website, Kyle and Kelly Phelps were commissioned to create a sculpture that encapsulated OccupySLU. However, when asked if there had been an artist commissioned, Smith said, “Actually we’re going to roll that back. The Public Art and Aesthetics workgroup is going to work through a creative process for commissioning the new artwork, and my hope is that it will be a much clearer, transparent process with more voices involved, and it is impossible to say for sure what that might be.”

Mereles did not seem satisfied with the administration’s advances.

“I can appreciate that the administration is trying to get things started, but even five months is a long time to still be in the process of just starting change. It definitely isn’t enough time to implement the new policies completely, but I feel like they should be farther along than they are,” she said.

Who is SLU accountable to? According to Smith, the fact that they gave their word is enough. He said, “It’s our word, it’s our commitment. There is no external agency or institution to whom we have to report, but we as a member of a larger community must be accountable to that community.”