Niagara University's Black Student Union protests

Nov 16, 2015

More than 50 students rallied and marched across the Niagara University campus Monday speaking out against what they say are "social and racial inequalities" at their school. WBFO's Focus on Education reporter Eileen Buckley was there as students marched to the president's office.

Students protest what they claim are 'social and racial inequalities' at Niagara University.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"No peace, no justice', were among the rallying cries as students began their protest around 9 a.m. Monday. They said they were 'acting in solidarity' with the recent events and movement at the University of Missouri.  

Students protested on Niagara University campus.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Students used a bull horn encouraging students to let their voice be heard. "What do we want? Change!  When do we want it?. Now!," changed the students. 

Students protest what they claim are 'social and racial inequalities' at Niagara University.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Led by the college's Black Student Union, protesters spoke out against what they said are 'social and racial inequalities'. 

Students are calling on the college to create an active black studies program, select a more diverse faculty and offer more support from the administration. 

Students protest what they claim are 'social and racial inequalities' at Niagara University.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"If you're not the white majority, it definitely is more so difficult for you to be here," said Christina Beauvoir, Niagara University senior. 

The college's Black Studies program has been dormant. Students also voiced outrage over a black student union poster that was marked up with racial overtones. 

Students told WBFO News they've tried to bring their concerns to members of the administration. But students said they can not identify those leaders.

"Multiply times students have gone to key people of the administration, but when we bring about these issues, it's constantly brushed under the rug," said Stevie Vargas, senior. "We were met with a lot of backlash, standoffish behavior."

Vargas said students were even told that they didn't want their concerns to be turned into a quote 'lynch mob against the administration.'

Niagara University President Rev. James Maher.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Not long after students marched across the campus, President Rev. James Maher emerged, first speaking with reporters.

"We're committed by promoting inclusion and diversity in all of its forms and that we maintain that committed today, tomorrow and as we go forward," stated Maher. 

Maher said he was willing to review the Black Studies program and consider the students concerns. "It's a program that has great, great potential," noted Maher. "It's certainly something I'm very open to considering."

A short time later about a half-dozen students arrived at the President's office. The were escorted inside and held a meeting behind closed doors for less than an hour.  When students emerged, they were claiming victory. 

Students said Father Maher has agreed to work to address their concerns and issues.

Students emerged from the President's office pleased with their meeting.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"We even have him drafting a letter, as we speak with his signature on, stating that he will stay accountable to this, so I think we were pretty successful today with our movement," said Eric Rigg, senior.

Students also voiced outrage over a Black Student Union poster that was marked up with racial overtones. It was scribbled over with comments such as "makes no sense" and "Fighting segregation by making a segregated group?"  It also included a profanity.  

Father Maher told reporters learning of the poster was 'upsetting'. 

Maher also promised students he would meet with them once a month to continue the dialog. Students said they were 'very happy'.  They described the college leader as 'genuine' and 'sincere'. They also described the priest as being surprised at some of the racial tensions on the campus.

"What's kind of different with this protest, is that we aren't asking that people be fired," we're just letting them know what the issues are and we came solution-oriented, so I think that's why we kind of came out victorious," Beauvoir,