Book club meeting sparks controversy

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URBANA — Book clubs are usually free of controversy, but members of one club say other people tried to bring it in.

The visitors say they were discriminated against and turned away at the door.

Both the book club, and those visitors, say they have been targeted because of their race.

“The Independent Media Center is a community center with a social justice mission, and we are particularly concerned with serving marginalized populations,” said IMC program director Brian Dolinar.

Dolinar opened the IMC’s doors to the Black Students for Revolution.

Several students gathered in this room to talk about the autobiography of Malcolm X.

But Karen Olowu says they were interrupted by the Illini Republicans.

“They just tried to come into our space and be disruptive, antagonize our members,” said Olowu.

That’s when Dolinar stepped in.

“We were concerned about the students, and really find the actions of this group, the Illini Republicans, to be very inappropriate and this kind of intimidation, we won’t tolerate it,” said Dolinar.

Illini Republicans vice president Timothy Kilcullen said his group was not trying to be the enemy.

“I absolutely guarantee that never happened. No illini Republican member ever threatened anyone in Black Students for Revolution,” said Kilcullen.

He said he was concerned when he saw a flier for the book club, saying people in attendance should be only people of color.

“Instead of protesting like we were certainly tempted to do, we go to just see the discussion…see another point of view. And they say we’re not even going to let you see our viewpoint,” said Kilcullen. “It’s just shocking prejudice.”

He said they wouldn’t even let them in the door.

“Two separate groups of people from Illini republicans went. They were both turned away instantly,” said Kilcullen.

“Of course there’s going to be staff, and we are not going to allow them into the building,” said Dolinar.

Kilcullen said “they didn’t ask them what group they were from, nothing like that. They just saw the skin color and told them to leave.”

Olowu said the purpose of the book club is not to draw prejudice.

“The purpose of the book club is to give people of color, and specifically black people, a safe space, and issues that are specific to us as a community,” said Olowu.

The Illini Republicans say the book club promoted segregation, but Olowu says there’s a key point everyone needs to understand about what segregation actually means.

“Segregation was a system of racial oppression that lasted for decades, and it was enforced by power, systemic power,” said Olowu. “It harmed hundreds of thousands of black people. A reading group for people of color harms nobody.”

The Illini Republicans said they are considering legal action against the IMC.

However, legal experts say there’s a good chance a lawsuit would be unsuccessful, since the IMC is privately owned and the meeting was a private event.

The U of I’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Renee Romano, released a statement in response to recent race-related issues like this one.

Part of it says “my staff and I are working to find ways to create meaningful dialogue between students with different views on critical issues…at Illinois, we can and should be an example of how to engage with those who disagree with us.”

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