The College of Lake County, located in Grayslake, IL, has received intense backlash following the public release of a student's experience with racism within the college. Local black student Leila M. released the details of her fight against the racist behavior of three officers of CLC's Student Government Association. President Marilyn Lambert, Vice President Rhiannon Graham, and Press Secretary Madison Hartman are currently under investigation for events that happened over the course of the 2019-2020 school year.
These three officers of the Student Government Association have harassed, threatened, and nearly succeeded in expelling their black classmate Leila M. Despite many emails from the community and students, a petition with over 3,800 signatures, and multiple police reports filed by Leila M. and others, Marilyn Lambert, Rhiannon Graham, and Madison Hartman have faced no disciplinary action whatsoever.
In accounts verified by multiple witnesses, Marilyn, Rhiannon, and Madison, used micro-aggressions, claimed they had a target on her back, submitted her information and photo to this conservative news site, used the platform conservative group they belonged to (Young Americans for Freedom) to discredit and harass Leila M. Rhiannon Graham specifically called Leila a n*gger multiple times. They reported her private commentary of the mistreatment black women endure at the hands of white women, as well as her private medical information to CLC administration in their effort to have her disqualified from the 2020 Student Body Presidential Race.
Leila M. was running as a candidate against current Student Body President Marilyn Lambert, when, after a year of unaddressed complaints of racism from her Student Government peers, she suddenly faced expulsion from the College of Lake County for expressing her exhaustion with the racism she faced within the SGA and generally as a black woman. Rather than attempt to give her the support she needed, Leila M. faced the threat of being expelled from CLC until the Dean of Students was dissuaded from official punishment by a character witness on Leila's behalf. Rhiannon Graham, who filed the report with CLC to further the political agenda of Marilyn Lambert and Madison Hartman, faced 0 investigative inquiries or disciplinary action at that time.
Even though Leila faced no official punishment barring her from running, the circumstances behind the results of the election are questionable. Students present recall the panel voting event having been discussed with the student body, however only approximately 50 students attended the day of the election, most likely for fear of contracting COVID-19. Despite promises to post a ballot online for students to vote, only those 50 or so students got to vote for their new officers in person before they took the official tally.
"They had the panel, and then Jorge Tenin (SGA Advisor) started handing out little slips with the candidates' names and he asked us to choose one option," says CLC student Ambar Marquez. "But it wasn't made available online for all I know."
In an email exchange between Leila M. and Jorge Tenin, the SGA supervisor, Tenin makes it clear that the administration did NOT want to use a method for voting that would allow the entire campus to make their decision. Not only did this decision put students who came to the campus in person at risk for COVID-19, it also excluded the votes of any student who felt unsafe enough to attend. In a school of approximately 15,000 students, less than 100 votes should not have determined the winner of the Student Body Presidential Election.
The entire situation both with the Student Body Presidential Election and between Leila M., Marilyn Lambert, Rhiannon Graham, Madison Hartman, and the administration highlights a much bigger issue within CLC's walls, though. Despite having a campus that is made up of 43% minority students (shown here) students have reported feeling as though issues reported by organizations/individuals who were white, heterosexual, and cisgender are addressed more thoroughly and swiftly than issues reported by organizations/individuals who were minorities.
A prime example of this, in addition to the Student Government Association's blatant disregard for Leila M's safety and tolerance of racism, would be what one LGBTQ+ activist calls "the bathroom incident". In 2019, a gender neutral bathroom on CLC campus was vandalized with transphobic slurs written on the plaque declaring gender inclusivity.
"The plaques near multiple bathrooms were taken off when we reported the issue to CLC, they never found who did it or never really resolved the issue," stated one LGBTQ+ student.
However, when a poster-board belonging to the organization "Young Americans for Freedom" was discovered to have been vandalized (pictured here), "they reported it and CLC immediately found who did it and were able to immediately resolve the issue," the student said. This on-campus group, centered on conservative values, has a reputation on campus for making minority students feel unsafe/discriminated against.
As noted in these Facebook photos, the group can regularly be seen mocking other students, and have posted videos of their "Hilarious Moments" (shown here) during debate panels, arguing and demeaning other students.
The implications of these two unrelated situations in terms of the college's behavior towards minority students brings up many questions.
Firstly, if College of Lake County's syllabus states that "CLC has actively participated in the national Safe Zone program since the fall semester of 2003," then why do so many LGBTQ+ students feel as though CLC cannot be trusted with their own safety?
Secondly, Why is the College of Lake County so keen on taking action the moment their white students experience problems on campus, but when blatant and documented attacks on their minority students are presented to them, suddenly they feel as though those situations require lengthy and involved investigation that warrant little to no action?
Finally, why is the pattern of behavior favoring cisgender students (by taking down gender neutrality plaques rather than punishing the vandal) in the "bathroom incident" nearly identical to the leeway/preference CLC admins showed towards the three white students accused of racism in Leila M.'s case, rather than the victim of their hatred?
Leila M. wasn't the only individual to feel that CLC has created an unsafe, racially charged, toxic environment, either. Multiple students have come forward in support of Leila M., speaking about their experiences/feelings as students of CLC, as well as how the administration and the accused SGA officers have created a social climate that directly juxtaposes College of Lake County's supposed values. Many students have opted to remain anonymous for fear of their safety, but have provided statements for this article:
"If you have leadership there being allowed to say degrading terms to the MINORITIES of the school, then they should've never been put into power to begin with," said one CLC freshman, concerned about the integrity of student leadership specifically in relation to the Student Government Association's President and Officers.
"CLC would be looking dumb as f*ck to support these racist white student council women with minority students' photos ON THEIR SCHOOL BUS, IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE!" yelled another outraged CLC sophomore, referencing CLC's tokenization of minorities in their advertising in direct conflict to the way the administration handles minority student issues.
"As a student, with everything going on it makes me feel as if even though I did nothing wrong to anyone at the school, there will still be racist comments towards African Americans more than ever now. For some reason most people seem to think all black people are bad..." states another CLC freshman, worried for her safety in light of the SGA Officers' allegations becoming public.
"We need to stop hate and spread more love towards each other. Some opinions are hard to call the "right answer", but in this case, this is a definite wrong answer," says Fernando Candia, CLC freshman, in reference to CLC's lack of response, public statement, and action in regards to Leila M.'s case.
"I remember a specific time I heard a member from YAF (Young Americans for Freedom) was talking about the student resource center call the majority of the black student workers in the front desk "lazy black people"... It did truly make me upset at the time, and it made me feel more discriminated and targeted," claims one helper for the Student Resource Center.
As tensions rise between minority students and the administration, CLC's President Lori Suddick has made no statement to students, or the public at this time. In emails to concerned community members, Suddick claims the administration is "following through on accusations (yet unsubstantiated with facts)...", however the administration has yet to move forward whatsoever, and the Student Officers have received 0 disciplinary action or removal from office as of 7/4/2020.
If you'd like to sign the petition demanding the removal of Marilyn Lambert, Rhiannon Graham, and Madison Hartman, please click here. Contact information for the College of Lake County administration can be found within the petition description as well. It's time to prioritize minority students' safety, success, and wellbeing. Racism is unacceptable, it's time to speak up for what's right.
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