Dozens of students gathered outside Concordia University Chicago Tuesday morning, chanting in unison: “Change CUC.”
With signs that read “Be not afraid!” and “Who do you serve?” students at the protest held April 12 claimed that the River Forest-based university has become unwelcoming toward those of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some also voiced concerns over recent changes made to CUC’s mission statement, which they say no longer features the word “diverse” and saw the removal of that word as one of many “red flags” which reflect the way the university sees them.
“We need to end racism at this school. Discrimination cannot be tolerated here anymore,” one student said. “Blacks, Browns – doesn’t matter. We do not need to take this any longer. We stand against racism, discrimination and sexism.”
According to university data, Latinx students make up 33% of CUC’s student population, making them the second largest racial group on campus, behind white students (about 47%). At least 10% of students are Black and 4% are Asians, data shows.
Students at the rally demanded the university offer more scholarship opportunities for students of color and those who practice other religious faiths apart from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Some students claimed they felt the university’s push for LCMS teachings has also contributed to an unwelcoming environment.
Concordia University Chicago is one of nine colleges and universities across the nation affiliated with LCMS; university data shows that 16% of students at CUC subscribed to LCMS, while about 25% are Catholic and almost 35% belong to other Christian faiths.
“We stand here as a community,” another student said at the rally.
Other students at the protest said they wanted the university to hire more diverse faculty and staff and invest in cultural competency training for employees. They also sought more scholarship opportunities for students of color.
Professor speaks out
Tuesday’s protest took place just a half hour before a town hall meeting in the university chapel and came on the heels of the banning of a CUC professor Paul Stapleton.
On Monday, Stapleton, an English professor, was arrested on campus for trespassing after violating a ban notice. He has since been charged with criminal trespass on land and obstructing a peace officer, said River Forest Police Chief Jim O’Shea.
O’Shea clarified Stapleton was not cooperating with police officers at the time of the arrest, which was why he was charged with the latter. O’Shea also told Wednesday Journal that the university Concordia filed the ban against Stapleton and sought for his arrest if he returned on the campus. Stapleton is scheduled to appear in court May 20 at the Maywood Courthouse.
Stapleton told Wednesday Journal he was banned from the campus a week and a half ago after he and his wife, another university professor, continued to raise concerns about the issues of racism toward faculty, staff and students. The university held a meeting April 12 as a way to address the concerns of faculty and students, including Stapleton.
Stapleton said he met with CUC officials April 8 and was informed he was barred from university property and any activities until further notice. Stapleton said he was also told he could only teach his classes via Zoom with another administrator present. But, he said, CUC officials failed to explain to him why he was banned at all.
The university confirmed Stapleton has since been suspended with pay but remains an employee at CUC. Faculty members have stepped in to take on Stapleton’s classes, university spokesperson Eric Matanyi told the Journal.
“The ban seems very arbitrary,” Stapleton told the Journal. “I have no clue why I’ve been banned. No policy has been given to me – nothing. I just got banned, and I have no idea why.”
Barred by confidentiality, Matanyi told the Journal the university could not comment on the recent banning of Stapleton but briefly explained a ban would be issued when the university “believes there’s a risk of safety to other people on campus.”
The Journal obtained a video showing Stapleton and university Provost Erik Ankerberg April 8 in a heated conversation with Stapleton asking Ankerberg over Zoom why he was not allowed to return to campus and teach his students in person.
“For what reason will I not be able to teach my students in the classroom? For what reason?” Stapleton asked Ankerberg, his mouth agape, throwing his hands up in the air.
“This will be determined,” Ankerberg replied. “The university determines modality.”
“Do you have this in the handbook? Modality?” Stapleton questioned. “Where’s that in the handbook?”
As the conversation escalated and Stapleton asked Ankerberg to show him CUC’s policy on what constitutes “modality,” Ankerberg repeated: “Modality is something that the university determines.” On the issue of why Stapleton was banned, Ankerberg, in the video, said the meeting was not “for me to answer your questions.”
During the nearly 16-minute-long conversation, Ankerberg told Stapleton that a ban was issued against him and would be arrested if he violated the notice.
“I am planning for you to teach on Monday via Zoom,” Ankerberg said. “The ban is in effect: You will not be on campus, and I’m assuming you will be setting up and teaching your students via Zoom on Monday.”
Immediately following his arrest, Stapleton shared a document with the Journal where CUC officials suspended him for “insubordination in that you failed to teach your classes as instructed.” In the email, officials asked Stapleton to acknowledge the memo.
Stapleton said he replied to the email with a quote: “An unjust law is no law.”
Though days have passed since the incidents on campus, Stapleton took a moment to reflect and told the Journal he was proud of the way students have responded.
“I thought, ‘OK, it’s not just my perception. This is touching a deep root. The students feel this, too,” Stapleton said. “They feel this.”
Share your story
Wednesday Journal wants to hear from you. If you are a student or faculty member that has experienced any form of discrimination and open to sharing your stories, send an email to education reporter F. Amanda Tugade at firstname.lastname@example.org. Those interested are also encouraged to fill out this Google form.