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SLU Reports Progress On Pact That Ended Sit-In, More Efforts Aiding African Americans

Fred Pestello
Stephanie Zimmerman

Saint Louis University officials say the school will have more money to attract and retain African-American students and an increased budget for African-American studies under an agreement that ended a six-day sit-in on the campus in October.

Updating progress on what have become known as the Clock Tower Accords, SLU President Fred Pestello said Monday that since the 13-point agreement was reached with demonstrators who protested on campus after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, many campus groups have met to turn the pledges into reality.

“I want to clearly reiterate that these initiatives were not just words on paper,” Pestello said in a statement. “They are completely consistent with the mission of this university and the challenges I put before students, faculty, and staff during my inaugural address just weeks before the Clock Tower protest began.

“And they are being undertaken by this outstanding university to effect change and produce tangible results here at SLU and in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the region.”

The so-called Clock Tower Accords were negotiated among the SLU administration, demonstrators, clergy, community organizers and others. At its height, the sit-in featured hundreds who camped at the university’s clock tower in the center of campus.

At the time the agreement was reached, Pestello described the next steps this way in a campuswide message:

“We will move to more formal and institutionalized conversations about race on our campus. We also will begin to devise short- and long-term initiatives that retain and attract more students and faculty of color, promote equal opportunity, and advance focused economic development in disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

In his message on Monday, Pestello said a group of students, staff, faculty, city leaders and community organizers have been tracking progress of the agreement, meeting with him regularly.

“As we all knew,” he wrote, “some initiatives would move forward quickly, and others would take more time. But I remain committed to each of them; for they provide a roadmap for increasing student access and diversity on campus, and for providing opportunities and support to the disadvantaged of our community.

“I have listed below the initiatives that were agreed to on Oct. 18, and a status update on each. Hard work is being done on every one of them, and in the months ahead there will be even more progress to report. As always, I welcome your advice and suggestions on these efforts.”

Stefan Bradley, who directs the African-American studies program at SLU, said in an interview that he had been pleased by the way the process began and the way it has moved in the past several months.

“I thought that they were relatively well thought out by the young people,” he said of the demonstrators’ points, “and so they deserve a good deal of credit for putting these on paper and letting their demands be known. I think that the university deserves a good deal of credit for taking them seriously…..

“Those are good starting points. So Saint Louis University, a pillar of the city in many ways, is doing well to make a start on this, to confront these issues head-on. And we'll see where we can go from here.”

Money, dialogue, diversity

Addressing each of the 13 points of the Clock Tower Accords, one by one, Pestello’s message talked about short-term and long-term “initiatives that retain and attract more students and faculty of color, to promote equal opportunity, and to advance focused economic development in disadvantaged neighborhoods.”

Some specifics:

-- Increased budget for African-American studies. Funding is planned for professional development research, service trips and scholarly programs.

-- More financial aid to retain African-American students. Options include extending undergraduate merit scholarships to as long as six years and expanding a need-based grant program.

-- Evaluation of scholarship program to serve minority students better. Awards may be made to new transfer students and those in upper classes, plus full rides for qualified graduates in targeted local high schools.

'These initiatives were not just words on paper. They are completely consistent with the mission of this university.' -- SLU President Fred Pestello

-- Additional college prep courses in disadvantaged school districts. Initiatives include possibly increasing workshops and campus visit programs at middle schools and enhancing transfer partnerships with community colleges.

-- Establishment of a bridge program to increase the number of freshmen from Normandy and the Shaw neighborhood. A pilot program for students in grades 8-12 has been created to improve college readiness.

-- Establishment of a community center. Potential sites will be evaluated later this year.

-- New artwork. Artists Kyle and Kelly Phelps have been commissioned to design a sculpture “that captures the spirit and importance of the demonstration and encampment” from last October.

-- A national conference on racial equality. Bradley and other faculty members are planning a conference likely to be held no sooner than 2016, with smaller conferences possible in the interim.

-- Appointment of a special assistant to the president for diversity and community engagement. A committee is meeting to develop the position and search for a suitable person.

-- Establishment of a diversity speakers series. Two programs are planned for later this year.

-- Bi-weekly meetings between the president and a diverse group to advance efforts to address poverty and inequality. The Access and Success Working Group has been meeting regularly since October, including Pestello, faculty members, students and community leaders.

Bradley said that he has been pleased with the action by Pestello’s administration since the end of the protest. “The sincerity and the effort at this point I don’t think can be questioned,” he said.

Stefan Bradley
Credit Saint Louis University
Stefan Bradley

And, he noted, many of the issues included in the agreement continue talks that have been going on for some time.

“All universities have problems,” Bradley said. “On issues of diversity, SLU can get better. So can many other universities. And we’ve recognized this. Some of us have been discussing this for years, and so here’s an opportunity where the very top of the university has decided to make this a priority.

“The problems that affect St. Louis city affect the institutions in St. Louis city, so some of the issues that people had problems with in Ferguson and in the city mean something to Saint Louis University. Issues of empowerment, issues of institutions serving the city in some kind of way are all important things that SLU is now dealing with.”

Will action on the accords make a difference? “That’s the desire,” he added. “All of us who are participating with this effort like to think that these things will make a difference. More than anything, these are good starting points.

“So Saint Louis University, a pillar of the city in many ways, is doing well to make a start on this, to confront these issues head-on. We’ll see where we can go from here.”

Follow Dale Singer on Twitter: @Dalesinger

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.