SPRINGFIELD — Members of the University of Illinois Springfield community rallied to denounce racism Thursday afternoon, just more than a week after a Facebook post in which a university employee is pictured dressed as a border agent arresting a man in a costume dressed as an immigrant drew widespread ire.
Braving the bitter cold, about 50 students, faculty and staff gathered at the UIS colonnade for a series of speeches and chants reaffirming the university's commitment to diversity and inclusion before heading inside to question university leaders about their response to the incident.
"On behalf of the Student Government Association, we're here to denounce racism and promote diversity and inclusion in the UIS community," said Ben Paoletti, president of the university's student government association. "We believe the actions of the two UIS employees dressing as a border patrol agent arresting the caricature of a Mexican man were wrong."
In her Facebook post, Ann Gemberling is pictured wearing a "U.S. Border Patrol" hat and shirt "arresting" Jay, her husband, who is wearing a large sombrero, handlebar mustache, western shirt and bolo tie. They appear to be in costume at a private Halloween party. Both are employees of the university.
Ann Gemberling's Facebook post was taken down, but not before others re-posted it.
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Organizers of the rally said it was important to make a point that racism would not be tolerated on campus.
"I want to make sure it's portrayed as students, faculty and staff coming out to make sure that racism is going to be denounced on this campus," said Aislinn Diaz, a senator in the student government association and president of the college Democrats. "We will not accept it in any form that it comes ... I just don't want it on my campus. I want everyone to feel safe and I want everyone to feel the inclusivity that I felt when I first came to this campus before any of this began."
Diaz said the incident was the "first time I didn't feel safe" on UIS' campus.
At a town hall-style forum held later in the evening, UIS Chancellor Susan Koch said the unversity was "doing everything possible to uphold the values of the university," but could not elaborate much further on the specific incident since it is an ongoing personnel matter.
"I was as disappointed as many of you were to learn of the choice that two of our employees made about a week ago," Koch said. "It does not represent the values of our university in any way, shape or form. And some of us have had conversations about that already. But this is a personnel matter, so I'm very limited in what I can say today because we are in the process of handling it and the process is not completed yet."