Illinois State University Students calling for unity on campus, town leaders

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NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — Illinois State University students are sending a message of unity on campus. Friday, student-athletes led a group of students from the Redbird Arena to the university quad.

The assembly was planned after Larry Lyons, Director of Athletics said “all Redbird Lives Matter.”

The comment resulted in athletes boycotting games and practices.

Large group gatherings in Normal are prohibited during the pandemic and subject to fines of $750. Normal city leaders said assemblies like the hosted by ISU athletes are an excpetion to the rules.

It’s a matter of public safety and constitutional rights. Students want to make their voices as COVID-19 cases in McLean County are steadily surging.

“Some people are willing to risk their lives just so they can see the change and that’s what our generation needs now more than anything,” ISU student Jameel Stephens said.

ISU Police Chief Aaron Woodruff predicts dozens of participants.

“They recognize that social distancing and face coverings are requirements we already have [COVID-19] issues on campus and they’re going to do their part to make sure that people are in compliance with that,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff said enforcing COVID-19 restrictions, like a 10-person limit on gatherings will not fly.

Wednesday, the Normal Town Council voted to extend emergency orders. Further pushing rules like social distancing in bars and restaurants and limits on social gatherings. Woodruff said those rules do not pertain to university property.

Normal Town councilman Stan Nord disagreed with the proposal to extend orders he calls unenforceable, regardless of if it’s on or off campus.

He refers to the first amendment to back up his reasoning.

“Congress shall make no law representing an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or bridging the freedom of speech or of the press of of the people peacefully to assemble,” he said.

Nord said there is a veneer for off-campus gatherings. Even if it’s a party or a group friend convening, Nord said people can easily give it another title.

“Call it a protest, yup that’s your get out of jail free card,” he said.

Illinois State University police said people have the right to assembly, but urges everyone to consider the risks and wear masks.

Students will not receive fines for participating.

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