(REPOST From 2016) My Interview with Army Staff Sargent Joe Williams: A Thirty Year Blue-Collared Employee Speaks On Retaliation, Discrimination, and Racism at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
My Interview with Army Staff Sargent Joe Williams: A Thirty Year Blue-Collared Employee Speaks On Retaliation, Discrimination, and Racism at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign
Admittedly, like many academic-related employees and students at the University of Illinois, I do not spend much of my time thinking about the blue-collared employees at the university. In a usual week, the only time I spend thinking about university-related blue-collared workers is when one who is on my bowling team shares the experiences of his week with me. Now, I may not often concern myself with the day-to-day operations of these employees; however, I do respect their efforts and acknowledge them as integral pieces in the daily functions of the university. So, when I was informed of claims of retaliation, racism, and discrimination of blue-collared workers in the Facilities and Services [F&S] unit at the University of Illinois — I was morally compelled to more deeply understand the issue and shine a bright, public light on the findings.
However, before I highlight the key findings in my conversation with one employee and in the documentation I was given access to, I want to frame the tone of this piece. This account is not designed to scapegoat any individual. Instead, I want to accomplish two things: (1) bring to light my conversation with an employee who was, in my opinion, severely wronged by multiple players in the university and (2) point out systemic breakdowns that allowed supervisors to wrong this man and, as he claims, other employees in F&S. As the university is mired in various investigations alleging retaliation and racism experienced by F&S employees, I feel it important to highlight this specific man’s story and not let it simply tumble into a $150,000 report generally exploring racism at UIUC — a report that some will pick apart for a few weeks, while others will forget it completely or lump it into other overt acts of racism against students — as that is a sexier topic.
“All of my problems, medically, stem back from an on the job accident”
My conversation with Joe Williams occurred on April 7, 2016, in the backroom of the Perkins off of University in Urbana. Before entering Perkins, I saw a beautiful (at least by my standards) dark-red GMC pickup parked in the second handicapped spot, sporting military veteran plates. Immediately, I figured this was Joe’s truck because prior to meeting Joe, I was given access to documentation which indicated that, due to falling off a ladder, Joe had sustained injuries that rendered him effectively disabled. Furthermore, I also knew that Joe was an Army veteran. The final indication that this truck was a true tradesman’s truck was the bed toolbox — no self-respecting tradesman owns a truck without a box in the back. Walking into Perkins, I saw a larger African American man quietly sitting in the backroom, obviously waiting for someone. Assuming this was Joe, I walked towards him stuck out my hand and said, “Joe, that’s a nice truck you got out there bud.” He stood, shook my hand and immediately began talking about the long-range CB radio he recently installed into it. After about 10 minutes of banter regarding his truck and CB range, we comfortably transitioned into the story of his employment at UIUC.
For the past 30 years, Joe had worked for the university as a union carpenter. He is by every definition a blue-collared man — a man who often stated all he wanted was to do a good job for the university, be the example for his children, and provide them opportunities that he was never afforded. In many respects, Joe succeeded in his goals. His children went to college, with one gaining an advanced degree. While listening to Joe discuss his employment and reading from various documents — he literally brought a box load — it became increasingly apparent that Joe was a good employee who was failed by his supervisors, his union, and ultimately, the stewards of the university.
The genesis of Joe’s issues began in 1994, when he was injured in an accident falling from a ladder while fixing the roof of the university president’s house. The fall had, in Joe’s words, “jammed” his hip. For over a decade, Joe continued working for the university as a carpenter, with debilitating hip and back injuries — until 2005 when he was granted a medical leave of absence. It was not until 2012 that Joe attempted to return to work and was denied the request on several occasions — despite passing physical evaluations, functionality tests, obtaining a doctor’s clearance, and an on-the-job analysis. Essentially, Joe claimed that all of the tests suggested that he could perform the central functions of his job; however, the university was unwilling to agree with such assessments, citing that Joe would be a risk to the employer.
Eventually, once Joe realized that the university was going to continue to deny him the right to return to work, he filed and received special accommodations for his job. Signing this accommodation is where Joe believes that, “things got to rolling as far as the retaliation.” The administration made Joe sign a statement of understanding — ensuring that the university knew that Joe knew he was not supposed to be engaged in tasks that required him to consistently travel up and down ladders, to be on his knees or do work below his waist, such installing and grouting floor tiling. According to Joe, the accommodation was immediately ignored, “Well that changed immediately after I started working… Although when that happened they gave me kneepads, they bought me some kneepads. One of my first jobs was doing floor tile.” Kneepads, they gave him kneepads. That was extraordinarily kind of them. However, kneepads would have been irrelevant if his supervisors had been following the accommodations.
Immediately breaking Joe’s accommodations was just the start of a series of retaliatory and discriminatory events. See, Joe decided to regain the wages he lost as the university continued to deny his attempts to return to work. Eventually, that complaint went into mediation where Joe said some details got smoothed out, but he gained nothing “economically.” Yet, just over a week after signing the mediation agreement, he was transferred back to the carpenter’s main-shop and away from an accommodations expert stationed at the Madigan Lab, where his home base was initially situated upon his return. They moved him under a supervisor, who previously wronged Joe. According to Joe and supporting documentation, this supervisor forged a false no-call no-show via manipulation of one of Joe’s timecards. As Joe’s documentation shows, he did call into work and took his sick day, as per protocol. The university fixed the issue, removing the negative mark against Joe, and granting him the day’s pay. According to Joe, the supervisor was never reprimanded for the fraudulent actions. Transferring Joe back to a supervisor, who has wronged him in this way and may still have a grudge against Joe, proved to be problematic. Arguably, such problems manifested in partner assignments.
The supervisor partnered Joe with a Caucasian female who Joe claimed had previously accused two African American work partners of sexually harassing her. The rationale for this move is unclear to Joe, as he said he was working “fine” with his previous African American male partner. To stave off the pairing, before the assignment Joe filed a complaint with HR in regards to being placed with her, as he said that he “did not want to be placed in the same situation as the previously accused.” His attempts to curtail the partnership failed, and he was paired with her. During the course of the partnership, Joe suggested she often discussed the details of her harassment and said, “I don’t doubt she was probably traumatized but I am equally traumatized by her telling me what happened… it was traumatic.” In just over a month, this partner accused Joe of sexual harassment. Upon which, Joe was given new partners and relegated to the shop until the sexual harassment investigation and claims were dismissed by HR.
At this point, I pose two questions. First, if in fact, this person had previously claimed sexual harassment of her partners, then why not pair her with a female employee to protect both the female complainant and other male workers? Secondly, why do they insist on continuing to pair this female employee with African American male workers — what is the motivation behind such, especially if there is an emerged trend? I want to be clear in stating that I do not know if she was or was not sexually harassed by the other men. I only know Joe’s story and that the claim against him was dismissed. I am not passing judgment on her and do not expect the audience to do so either. I am simply questioning the behavior and motives of the supervisors. Clearly, the supervisors were either deliberately placing one or both people in a bad situation or they were acting extremely negligently and remaining ignorant to the situations they were creating.
Either way, the action is a breakdown of leadership and, at best, unethical behavior. Even more nefarious, Joe attempted to avoid the situation by asking HR to step in, and obviously, they did nothing. If the supervisors acted ethically and HR had done its job in protecting these workers, both employees would not have been subjected to such traumatic experiences. This is just one example of how the system failed Joe, as well as the female employee involved.
“How are you going to make me go from 50 locations to 500?”
Once the sexual harassment allegations have been dismissed, Joe was allowed to return to jobs outside of the shop. Sadly, the retaliation escalated. First, Joe’s supervisors gave him tasks scattered all over the university. He claimed that he went from 50 locations to 500. Not only did they expand the number of locations, “A lot of the jobs that the foreman gave me were going up and down the ladder, some floor tile jobs, and stuff like that — which I have documentation of.” Here is a legally disabled man, who had signed a university-sponsored document admitting limitations in the work could be assigned, and his supervisors appoint him the exact tasks the university sponsored document explicitly states he is not allowed to engage. Because of the physical overload, eventually, Joe experienced several days of “being paralyzed,” which eventually led him to seek his doctor’s counsel — resulting in hip surgery.
As Joe was on temporary disability preparing for the surgery, his specially “modified van” — due installation of step-boards — was immediately removed from him and given to another pair of employees. All of Joe’s tools were removed and put into the shop’s tool cage — where it became a free-for-all as his co-workers stole many. Twenty years of tools were taken from Joe via his co-workers, which (1) is expensive for Joe, (2) reduces Joe’s abilities to finish a job in a timely manner, and (3) frankly, is a slap in the face from his supervisors and co-workers. For tradespeople, an individual’s tools are untouchable, and stealing them is an ultimate sin — a sin that I have seen lead to fistfights. Sometimes those tools are legacy items, handed down from grandfather or father — such items are found in my father’s collection and even my own. The meaning behind these items cannot be replaced with simply buying new sets. By placing the tools in the open cage, I submit that the supervisors knew what they were doing to Joe and exactly what they were taking from him.
Joe indicated that he has never seen anyone have their van stripped away from them and the contents of the van just dumped into the cage. Now, here, Joe is traveling all over the university to engage in tasks — many of which he is not supposed to be engaged in — without the means to haul whatever tools he has left or to accommodate his medical issues. This level of inappropriateness and absurdity is truly sickening. Still, this is not even the worst of it.
Welcome to Your New Home — The Asbestos, Mold, and Pest Ridden Satellite Shop
Soon after Joe returned to work, sans van, he was moved to Room 10A of the Material Science and Engineering building’s basement. Without a doubt, this space was an unsafe workspace. As Joe described it — and the pictures he took illustrate — when Joe initially entered the space, there was black mold along some walls. There was asbestos hanging from pipes located at head level and in front of the only windows employees could use to circulate air. Wet sawdust was all over the place, as F&S employees used the table-saw and left the byproduct scattered. Scrap wood was “matted to the floor and moldy.” Flooding often occurred from a gaping hole near a window, and the space was infested with various pests (e.g. cockroaches, mice, and snakes). Furthermore, the climate of the environment was described as humid and hot due to the steam pipes that surround the room.
As per documentation, Joe had alerted supervisors and administration of the conditions of the space on July 14, 2015. As per the facilities work order, NO action was taken to repair the most pressing issue — the hanging asbestos — until August 25, 2015. Now, as the pictures show, Joe’s only means of air circulation while in Room 10A was a small window where he placed a fan — which was located directly in front of a pipe that had hanging asbestos. Many pipes that had asbestos hanging ranged from chest to head level for a 6 foot tall man. As Joe, standing at 6 foot 1 inch, would have to consistently duck to maneuver around the various spaces in 10A. He would absolutely have to duck just to get into the room. Even ducking, Joe easily could have disturbed the asbestos hanging from piping. Regardless, hanging asbestos should have been removed from this workspace long before Joe’s arrival, and it should not have taken five weeks to take care of the situation once reported. Curiously, while F&S and administration showed no concern with Joe potentially disturbing the asbestos, in an October 3, 2015 email to supervisors, HR, and administration, he described how he witnessed the crewmembers taping up the pipes had arrived in “their white suits and mask[s].” Such observations are simply indicative of the incredulous level of disregard that supervisors and administrators reserved for this man. Furthermore, most appalling is that such indifference and disregard may cause this man considerable health problems moving forward.
Responding more quickly than to the asbestos complaints, on July 31, 2015, an air quality test was conducted. The test results led to the conclusion that there were “no indications of poor indoor air quality.” Yet, the same document describes that the space is supposed to be used as “a temporary workspace, not permanently occupied” — largely due to humidity (average of 67.6%) and temperature (average of 86.1 degrees) findings in a twenty-four-hour test. Not reported, was data from the 12-hour span of day-time hours. I wonder how hot it was during what would be expected in a work day, say from 7 AM to 6 PM? While the air quality test identified the carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, temperature, relative humidity, and total dust, notably missing were tests on mold and asbestos. In an October 2, 2015 email, a supervisor told Joe that he was “free to choose where you take your breaks and lunches” and that “The work-related occasions which take you to the basement of MSEB to use the stationary tools there should few and of short duration.”
Here in lies the crux of the issue — repeatedly, Joe has stated that this space was his “home-base” not just a “temporary” break area, and supervisors also reinforced this understanding. When not on a task, Joe claims that the expectation is that he would be in this space — where they gave him a desk and computer to engage in communications and administrative duties. To Joe, this was “his space” and not just a temporary space where he was supposed to briefly be. Even if Joe was there temporarily, while in between tasks, this space was his reporting station and his supervisors knew that this space was going to be repeatedly visited and occupied more than occasionally.
During our interview, I asked, “Why didn’t you just say ‘I’m not gonna work there,’ why didn’t you do that immediately?” And Joe’s response was, “Well I didn’t want to get in trouble. I didn’t want to be rebellious. I know stories of different people who got time off for this and that… [time off for] speaking up.“ The man was close to retirement — just two years away. Why would he jeopardize that?
When I followed up, asking if such an action is common in F&S, Joe responded with, “it has been.” And when pressed again to whom this action was common with, he said it was common to African Americans. However, Joe did suggest that retaliatory actions were not exclusive to African Americans — as “all the people that the foremans [sic] had problems and issues with, they send them over there [Madigan Lab].”
Arguably, it appears that retaliation materializes in the form of inappropriate disciplining and job reassignment, with the problematic individuals all shuffled into one unit. Even though Joe claims retaliation occurs for both Whites and African Americans, there are hints that the rationale for retaliation may be different. Throughout the documentation, Joe was widely considered a good employee, and even when his rating was lowered, his supervisors said that Joe was, “a valuable employee and performs his job well.” Yet, he was shuffled into the perceived problem-child satellite lab and then into the despicable 10A — for what reason? For speaking up and consistently trying to gain the attention of his supervisors, administrators, and HR to address the various issues and malpractices?
On April 4, 2016, I visited the space. Last Joe knew about the space was that it was shut down by management on October 15, 2015. I wanted to see this space for myself; I wanted to get a feel for what it was and how he worked in it. On a day where the high was recorded at 58 degrees, the space was hot and humid — as should be expected with the TAPED asbestos steam pipes at head level. To me, it was not unbearably hot — I have worked in hotter; however, I also had adequate airflow with large garage doors wide open, industrial fans circulating air, and air conditioning in the office space. I had the bare minimum to stay as cool as possible. On the other hand, Joe did not have the luxury of airflow. No, Joe was relegated to work in what is essentially a sweat-box — where the only circulation available to him was a small window in the office space area of 10A. This small window was located directly behind one untaped asbestos pipe where obviously, placing a fan would disturb the dangerous fibers. But in order to tolerate the climate, Joe said he had no choice but to try to circulate the air.
The space has reopened since Joe’s retirement in October 2015. However, the space is much different than it appears in the photos. All the pipes are taped, and most of the areas are now cleaned up — except for one semi-abandoned room that has gravel and junk all over the place. No longer is there an indication of mold, and the hole near the window was patched up, thus eliminating the flooding. Yet, some issues that Joe described persist. Some power tools do not have dust catchers (e.g. table saws), and the pest problem remains — as caught on video, a cockroach greeted me, and mouse traps are laid out. During the visit, two carpenters came into 10A to grab some tools, and they left to move along with their tasks. I estimate they were not in the space but 3–5 minutes. Of course, they gave me curious looks as to why I was in the space, but they never approached me as to why I was there.
What I find most interesting about this space is that the atmospheric issues in the safety report remain, but I cannot fully determine if this space is now used as a temporary space, as the air quality report suggests it should be, or if this is someone’s “home-base.” There is evidence for both with the carpenters coming and going so quickly, thus suggesting temporary space, but their items being stored in the office-space that Joe once occupied indicates a different, more permanent scenario. I guess I cannot determine the nature of this space because nowhere in the documentation do the supervisors actually do so either.
The supervisors said Joe was only supposed to have a few visits to the space and that his visits should be of short duration. Still, the supervisors or administration never clearly defined what a “few” visits per week is and how “short” of a duration per visit was expected. If employees are expected to report at the space every morning, is that already too many visits per day? The nebulous expectations could obviously lead to miscommunications — but then, maybe, the unclear expectations were by design? Additionally, sending mixed signals, they told him not to take breaks in 10A, but they also provided him appliances to store and warm up his food — appliances that are still there today. I question, for the current employees based in that space, did supervisors and administration clarify these expectations, or are supervisors banking on the hope that these employees will just continue doing without questioning? If said expectations have yet to be clarified, continued unethical behavior preservers — even if unintentionally — and such should be corrected immediately.
“I thank God that of all the people, I was able to get a good job to take care of my family, you know”
Yes, on the surface, Joe had a good blue-collared job — one that most blue-collared workers would covet, as it pays well and provides benefits. Often, Joe talked about being the example for his children and how that guided many of his actions — including the actions that encouraged him to endure the various indignations he of which he has spoken. Also, let’s be honest, enduring was Joe’s only financial option, as he was rather close to retirement and a three-decade-long employee of the university. Joe’s choices were morally and financially guided and restricted– as it would be for any one of us that close to retirement. Yet, eventually, Joe had decided that he suffered enough discrimination and retaliation and decided to negotiate with the university to reach a buy-out/retirement settlement, sans legal system. Joe tried to keep the negotiations out of the court system because of how he was previously treated during workman’s comps hearing, “I was treated horribly and I already know what I was up against.” He also agreed that he did not initially desire to bring a public spotlight to this issue.
The university’s offer to Joe was, in his own words, “extremely insulting and unrealistic, to say the least.” Upon exploring various documents, two years of Joe’s pay and vacation buyout would be roughly over $140,000. The university’s offer was $18,500 split into two payments, the first an initial $5,000 payment and the second $13,500 “paid within thirty (30) calendar days following his resignation.” Visualize this: The university offered a blue-collared employee — one who has been employed for three decades, who has documented various instances of discrimination, racism, and retaliation — a buyout package for two years of employment at the effective hourly rate of $4.48 (not including his vacation and sick days) — much lower than the over $30.00 per hour to which he was accustomed. Such an offer only reinforced Joe’s belief that while his supervisors and administrators provided lip service akin to him being a valuable member of the team and a good employee, in fact, the university does not respect him as an employee or as a person. Because of this low-balled offer, Joe has been examining other pathways — which he should as is his right.
“Some of them have that [racist] mentality”
Beyond bringing more attention to blue-collared workers on campus, this story further illuminates racism on campus. Now, this is not a condemnation of any specific individual — as Joe said, “some people here are racist” and I would like to hope that the “some” part is true. Still, as I hope for such, I must take into consideration the historical (e.g. Chief) and recent instances (e.g. swastikas painted on walls, nooses on F&S an African American employee’s desk, and much more) where UIUC has not been overwhelmingly welcoming to non-Whites. Racism such as this in an institution like UIUC seems common; for examples, look no further than to the recent issues at the University of Wisconsin, Duke, University of Iowa, and more. However, I want to believe that these examples are a product of “some” people and not “us.”
I will be the first to admit that I am not entirely comfortable writing on racism, as I do not personally experience it, and I am not a scholar that explicitly studies racism. During the interview recording, anyone can hear that when Joe and I initially discuss racism at UIUC, I become more careful with my wording and inflection. When thinking about this piece and how to best serve Joe and the African American employees he speaks of, I spoke with many peers and colleagues about how to best construct this piece. I even alerted a well-respected African American scholar, whose voice would be infinitely more powerful than my own in this space and at UIUC, of these events. That is how I have chosen best to help Joe in regards to the racist aspects discussed.
Nevertheless, I cannot help myself but to share a small exchange between Joe and myself. At the University of Illinois, we have the Inclusive Illinois initiative, which is basically a generic all-encompassing movement towards becoming a diverse and inclusive campus. In the past, administrators used Inclusive Illinois to remind the community that all are protected and that all at UIUC are equalized and cared about after a racist event has occurred. There is nothing proactive in regards to Inclusive Illinois.
Towards the end of my interview, Joe and I were broadly discussing racism at UIUC, and I quipped, “I find it highly ironic that we here at the university talk about that Inclusive Illinois crap. Anybody that has half of a brain cell knows that they [the university] promote it but they [the university] don’t live it.” Unsurprisingly, Joe agreed that it was just often a deflective barrier utilized by the administration when it sees fit. However, to my surprise, Joe immediately turned the conversation towards the newly installed football coach, Lovie Smith. Joe said he gets “sick” thinking about how Coach Smith will be treated here.
We discussed how Coach Smith could be a prominent voice of change — with me stating my hopes that Coach Smith would serve as such and Joe, while hopeful, not entirely convinced he would be, “I’m giving him three years at the most, where he is going to experience some things at the University of Illinois and say I’m not gonna put my family through this.” To help me understand his beliefs surrounding Coach Smith, Joe encouraged me to listen to AM1400 where he said I could hear “a bunch of opinionated individuals on there.” At least in Joe’s mind (and likely others’), the racism at UIUC and surrounding is so deeply entrenched that, arguably the most powerful man at the university will be driven off the campus. To me, those are some powerful feelings regarding the UIUC community.
Personally, I find it hard to expand on Joe’s beliefs, as I find myself agreeing with his assessment that UIUC is not the most welcoming place, and I find myself out of my depth. Again, I know the history, and I know the modern day issues and responses, but because I do not experience racism directly– to properly serve Joe, I cannot truly expand on his beliefs or the experiences of racism he has shared with me. I can only report out. I hope that other scholars find something in Joe’s story and can give this section a better voice and more nuanced inference.
Joe’s Story Matters and Should Not Be Buried in a General Report
First, I want to make this explicitly clear, that I am not speaking for Joe. He is more than capable of doing so on his own. My motivation for telling this story is that I fear that UIUC will generate a large, costly, report that the Chicago Tribune and others will pick over just to unearth inflammatory details but truly not care about the story. I fear that Joe’s experiences will remain largely unnoticed, as the report will probably compile this issue into a larger F&S only issue and possibly bury it deeper as students’ feelings of safety at the campus are more heavily focused on. I refuse to allow this because Joe is part of the UIUC community, and he is just as important as President Killeen. As students — and arguably lately administrators — come and go, Joe and blue-collared workers like Joe remain. This is their actual home, their permanent communities — not a temporary workspace and not a pit-stop to gain skills for another destination, as it has been for me and most other students.
However, blue-collared workers like Joe are often forgotten about, and some on campus may not even consider them part of the campus’ community. I believe that these workers are just as valuable as any administrator, professor, or student because as Joe stated, “at the end of the day, I am a representative of the university.” Joe’s story matters because we need to start paying more attention to our tradespeople and the workplace and diversity issues they face.
I am not sure what discussion this piece will spark. I hope that it is a productive one in regards to employment relations, communities of universities, and of racism and discrimination. I know that Joe is not the only blue-collared worker who has been subjected to retaliation — nor is he the only African American worker faced with the indignations of racism and discrimination at UIUC. Currently, there is an active congregation of over thirty African American workers — a mix of blue and white-collared staff — who are frustrated with discriminatory treatment found at UIUC. I expect this issue to publically expand in the near future — probably at great embarrassment to the university and the administration as the media grabs hold of the narrative.
However, I desire something else. Chaos is not my motive. There are enough inflammatory fools willing to make their name only on chaos. I’ve always enjoyed designing interventions and finding solutions — sometimes, this process only happens after chaos. Hopefully, not this time. Also, I do not write this to scapegoat any particular individual, and I do not want people to judge the supervisors, HR, or administration without a deeper context. They are not villains — they are people who from Joe’s point of view wronged him. All I know about these people is what I have heard from Joe and what I have seen in the documentation. They could be good people, but they were not to Joe. Simply, the individuals presented in this document are players in Joe’s story, and they did not act without the consent of the system the university has in place. As FOIA’s occur and documents will show, there were and continue to be many players in Joe’s story. I do not support keyboard activism focused on any single individual. That would only be placing ownership on some individuals and not encouraging any important, actionable change. The university could easily fire some people, and then create a lame, toothless policy that does nothing to change the system at hand. Do not let that happen. That is the easy way out.
This is not a problem of an individual nature; this is a problem of the system and a problem of what the system is designed for. Clearly, the rules favor the university and do not protect Joe or others like him, as it will be soon known. The university is important; however, so are Joe and others like him. I hope that when these issues come out we can have a productive conversation on what exactly an Inclusive Illinois (or other campuses) should be, how to move towards being an actual inclusive campus in practice not only in mission statement, and what employment structures should be in place to ensure that nobody must endure that which Joe has.
What I do not want to see another email from our President or Chancellor which dictates how they one day plan on eventually addressing the problems at hand. Although I understand why these emails exist, and will probably have to craft one or two in the future, I am tired of reading them. Maybe these emails ease the masses. But as the administration plans on addressing these future issues and reminds everyone that we are inclusive, their lawyers offer discriminated/retaliated employees settlements to the tune of $4.40 per hour, all the while some investigatory firm drafts another six-figure report. If we did the right thing to start — say demoting for retaliation and immediately firing employees for engaging in discrimination and racism in the workplace — the university would not have to worry about buyouts, expensive investigatory reports, and embarrassing national conversations. Conversations UIUC has grown entirely too accustomed to being within.
I call for UIUC’s leaders and community to shift the rules of the system to ensure swift, enforceable actions to employees who engage in on-the-job discriminatory, retaliatory, and racist behaviors. I would like to see a Chancellor led taskforce which includes the input of students, professors, academic staff, and non-academic staff. I want to see a joint effort in creating interventions and solutions to ensure we actually become an inclusive campus. I do not believe that UIUC will become a truly inclusive campus if the administration solely dictates piecemeal policies disjointed from the input of the rest of the community. Let’s use the principles of organizational change and the principles of leadership that we teach our students — an organization cannot sustain any real change until the community is consulted, buy-in is generated and the groups work together to develop jointly agreed upon decisions. Often, hierarchical power sweeps result in failure to change the system or in changes only one group desires to see. As I envision, possibly, the results of this task force will develop systems that protect people like Joe and hopefully help the community be more aware and welcoming of UIUC’s blue-collared workers. Furthermore, possibly, the outcomes of this task force could become a stepping stone towards solving other meta-level discriminatory issues that confront the community at large.
We can do better than this. We can treat our people better than this. Our community could be stronger than this. We just have to make the decision to work together on it. I challenge the new administration (and believe in them) to facilitate the process to bring the groups aforementioned in collaboration to make our campus a better, more inclusive place.
*This article was pre-reviewed and written with the permission of Joe
*Documents referred are hosted in public space and have been FOIA-ed.
To contact Army Staff Sergeant Joe Williams email him at — Jlww85@yahoo.com