Five Loyola Marymount University students barged into President James Loughran’s office Thursday, demanding that he hear their concerns about alleged racism on campus during what Loughran termed an “emergency conversation” that lasted nearly nine hours.
Armed with a list of five demands, the students, led by campus activist Hugh Lowe, arrived unannounced at the president’s office in St. Robert Bellarmine Hall shortly before it closed late Thursday afternoon, asked to see the president and brushed past a secretary to gain admission into Loughran’s office.
“It was a way to get their attention,” said senior Armando Sosa, 22, one of the students who led the protest on the normally quiet campus of the private Catholic university.
At the same time, about 100 other students and faculty members were attending a demonstration that included a Mass, a candlelight vigil and speeches encouraging student activism against racism.
Insisted on Staying
Loughran agreed to meet with the five students who barged into his office when they insisted on staying and refused his offer of an appointment for the following day, Lowe said.
Loughran was unavailable for comment.
The students, members of the Concerned Student Union, a group formed last fall to promote equality for minorities on campus, said they were upset about what they see as the university’s insensitivity to Latinos, Asian-Americans and African-Americans, Lowe said.
They said that their concerns were that the number of African-Americans in the student body is small and dwindling, and minority representation on the faculty is low.
The list of demands presented to Loughran included requests for a task force to investigate allegations of racism among administrators, an increase in funding for minority student services, the resignation of Lane Bove, vice president of student affairs, and amnesty for the five students who made the demands, said junior Yvette Abich, a spokeswoman for the group.
By the end of the marathon meeting at 1:15 a.m. Friday morning, Loughran and the students had agreed on four of the five demands, including the establishment of a task force and amnesty for the five student leaders, Lowe said.
But no agreement was reached on the students’ request for the firing of Bove, Lowe said. Instead, Bove’s performance in the job she has held since May will be re-evaluated, he said.
Students have asserted that Bove is insensitive to minorities and that a plan under consideration to merge minority student services offices with the school’s counseling, health and placement office would diminish the amount of support provided to minority students.
Bove referred calls Friday to university spokeswoman Rena Bloom.
Bloom said that “there had been some reorganization proposed” of the minority student services, but denied that it would reduce the importance of those services.
Bloom defended Loyola’s minority hiring and admission practices, saying about 31% of the school’s 3,773 undergraduates were minorities, based on enrollment figures from last fall.
Of Loyola’s minority undergraduates, 14.6% or 531 students are Latino, 11.5% or 423 are Asian-American, and 4.8% or 174 are African-American, she said. Those figures did not include graduate students or law school students at Loyola’s Los Angeles campus, she said.
But Loyola’s three minority student services directors disputed the figures, saying they misleadingly include minority students who enrolled in the fall but did not complete matriculation for various reasons, including insufficient financial aid or better offers from other schools.
Nancy Au, director of Asian-Pacific Student Services, said that although the enrollment of Asian-Americans has remained fairly steady since she joined the university staff in 1980, the enrollment of blacks has declined from 6.9% in 1980 to 3.7% this year.
Director of Black Student Services George Morton said there are closer to 140 black students actually attending Loyola this year, not 174, as officially reported.
Among the 208 tenured and tenure-track faculty on the university’s Westchester campus, there are seven black faculty members, nine Latinos and four Asians, Bloom said.
One black faculty member, sociology professor John Davis, was summoned to the president’s office to mediate the discussion between Loughran and the students.
“The students felt their concerns were legitimate, and they would like them to be heard,” Davis said Friday. “The president responded, and I think that was commendable.”
While Davis, Loughran and members of the Concerned Student Union met in the administration building, the separate demonstration unfolded nearby.
After the two-hour Mass, the students, holding candles and carrying signs that read “Loyola Minorities United,” sang “We Shall Overcome” as they marched from the chapel to the Regent’s Terrace lawn in front of St. Robert’s Hall.
There, students held a candlelight vigil until early Friday, listening to speeches, singing songs, and recounting personal incidents.
Sophomore Bruce Herron, 20, said he and two other blacks were singled out two weeks ago by Assistant Athletic Director Dan Yocum and asked for identification while they were using the school gym. White students in the gym were not asked to show identification, he said.
“If you’re a black on campus, they automatically assume you’re not a student,” Herron said.
But Yocum said school or employee identification is required as a matter of course for everyone who uses the school’s gym and tennis courts to prevent non-students from using LMU facilities. Usually, he said, a monitor at the gym entrance checks identifications of everyone entering.
Yocum said he asked to see Herron’s student card, as well as cards of white students, because he knows most students who use the gym regularly and, when the gym is crowded, he checks identifications of every unfamiliar face.
Yocum said he did not recognize Herron.
“I would ask for identification from anyone I did not recognize as a student,” Yocum said.
Herron and Yocum said they had a friendly meeting after the incident to discuss ways to improve the athletic department’s identification system.
Senior Kasey Kennedy, 25, who is black, said that during the last two years he has been stopped four times by campus police, who asked him to describe campus landmarks to prove he is a student.
Friday morning, after the meeting between Loughran and the students had ended, some students seemed optimistic that the administration would work with students to resolve problems.
“I think the administration will take minorities more seriously now,” said freshman John Crocker, 18, another activist who participated in the takeover of the president’s office.
Crocker said a meeting will be held with Loughran and other school officials this week to follow up on Thursday’s discussion.
“Talking is good,” Crocker said, “but action had to be taken.”