Southern University Running Back Lenard Tillery Pens Open Letter: Say No to the Gateway Project

My name is Lenard Tillery III, I am currently a 22 year old senior student-athlete at Southern University. I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, LA where I attended McKinley high school. It was my dream to attend Southern University because I wanted to be a part of its rich culture.  As the largest HBCU our graduates can be found everywhere. The pride that we have for our university is exceptional, but many feel the issues of our university will never change. Through my matriculation I have experienced many struggles and many triumphs but through these experiences I have learned that anything is possible with sacrifice and imagination. Through unity and teamwork we can initiate change! The gateway project was first proposed in 2004 and although this would help the image of Southern University, there are many other areas of concern that need attention before we commit to another project.

Southern University politics and Louisiana politics are one in the same. Many bills and legislations are being pushed through, to attract new tourists to the state, and in the case of Southern, to attract new students. What measures are being taken to retain students? What measures are being taken to ensure that residents of the state are happy? For a community to be healthy and to make positive strides towards a better future the concerns of those already committed to the university must first be addressed.

Southern University has been plagued by the same issues for decades. Many school officials and SGA president’s proposed solutions and promised change only to provide temporary solutions. This continued cycle of guile and deceit has caused many alumni and former students to lose faith in a positive future for Southern University while others still fight to make a difference. Many advocates for change feel helpless, but the history of our prestigious university has taught us how to handle these situations, with UNITY.


“Unity is strength, where there is

Teamwork and collaboration wonderful

Things can be achieved”

-Mattie Stepanek

The power of the SGA lies in the hands of the students that are knowledgeable of events on campus, and those attending the meetings to bring about change. The majority of the students don’t attend board meetings and aren’t connected or concerned with the proposals that are presented. Which raises an important problem on campus, student participation and interaction. We have failed ourselves as a student body by sitting idly and expecting change to happen. Our ancestors advocated, marched and SACRIFICED for change! They realized that they deserved better and were active in achieving their goals. Anyone can complain, who is willing to ACT towards a better future?

The power of the people is unity. Students are unaware and uninterested in meetings that will determine the future of their university. The gateway project was first introduced in 2004. The senate of student leaders has voted in favor of this while the majority of students were unaware of the gateway project ever being discussed. “If you pass by Southern on Scenic highway you may not notice it at all. This new Gateway Entrance that has been selected by the students of the university will change that”. Southern University’s rich history is revered all over the nation and around the world.

It seems that the focus of higher learning has been put aside for “turn up”. Partying and having a social life is a significant part of college but it should not be the main concern of the student body. HBCU’s, were created so that blacks (who could not receive an education at other schools) were given the opportunity to pursue knowledge past a high school degree. Again I reiterate that having fun is a major component of college but we must realign our priorities. The pursuit of knowledge needs to be the premier goal.

“Knowledge is power, information is liberating, Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family”

-Kofi Annan

It is time for students to stop assuming that the problems that we experience on a daily are noticed by the higher ups of our university. They are focused on the large-scale issues, we must bring to their attention the concerns of the student body. The only way to bring about change is to make it our initiative! We assume that the “higher ups” are knowledgeable of our issues. We assume that they are working fervently to resolve these issues. We assume that we are all looking for the same change. We must stop assuming and start advocating for change that will increase retention. Change that will motivate students to take pride in their university. Change that will motivate students to become active. Change that will last. Change that will make alumni proud and willing to give back without the fear of their money being “lost”. We must stop looking for the next person to take action and realize this is our burden to bear!

The Gateway Project was proposed to improve the overall image of Southern University. Although this would help, there are many other areas that warrant concern. Areas that need to be addressed BEFORE we commit to another project. The roads on campus are uneven, potholes are everywhere and the traffic guidelines are still misunderstood by many of the students. Instead of giving clarification, SUPD (Southern University’s Police Department) gives tickets and boots. Parking is limited to the mini dome or in the pothole ridden parking lot next to the fieldhouse. The roads must be funded by the state but a better understanding of parking guidelines, better parking lots and availability of parking areas is in our control.

The Gateway project “is significant to Southern University to enhance not only the entrance but the overall image of Southern University”. Maybe to outsiders. There are many ways to improve the image of SU: modernizing the campus, renovating or tearing down the abandoned buildings, and providing upkeep and renovations to the buildings around campus. The F.G. Clark activity center (mini dome) hosts games, events and fellowship for Southern and many other organizations around the state. Yet the inside is outdated and the outside needs immediate attention. Dirty roofs and stained glasses are the first things you see when you cross the hump. The campus looks bland and stuck in the 1900’s. The inside of the majority of buildings need repair and upkeep. Leaky roofs, moldy walls, sewage backup and broken sprinkler systems plague the buildings of our campus and it was reported that 21 of 140 buildings at Southern University have life safety code deficiencies. Elevators in every building are either slow and rickety, or just not working at all. The board review meetings have addressed these concerns and put thousands of dollars towards it, but nothing has been fixed. The living conditions at Southern University are also sub-par. Buildings such as Grandison and Reed are outdated and experience Ada compliance issues every semester. Flooding, bug infestation, dirty water from pipelines, ac/heating issues, and Wi-Fi connection are just a few problems that students on campus experience daily. Complaint requests for repairs have been sent to the office of student life by the dozens only to be addressed in a prolonged fashion or not at all. Instead of fighting against these injustices many students prefer to just move off of campus, commute to school or transfer.

Another issue that has been repeatedly ignored is the lack of food choices on and around campus. Board is $1375 a semester and many students complain that the food provided in the cafe lacks taste and variety.  Businesses like Subway are located on the campus but students cannot use their jag dollars to purchase food. There are only three choices in our union (Popeye’s, burger king, and cafe lacumba) and they close every day at 5. The lack of variety and availability causes many students to leave campus and spend their money in other places. Revenue that we could be taking advantage of.

“It will help attract new students, will add a large part to improving the campus overall image and assist us in recruiting new partners who are willing to help us improve and rebuild Southern University”

Attracting new students is a major concern for Southern University. What can we do to increase retention rates and attract new students? The best way to keep revenue increasing is to keep students at Southern University. Be mindful that students who have been at the institution for 4+ years, and transfer students are not accounted into retention rates. The daily life of students at Southern University should not be filled with stress from living conditions, problems with financial aid or concerns that teachers have no fervor to teach. How can we increase graduation rates from 33.56% if we can’t keep our students?

If we seek reinforcement from the community, why don’t we reinforce them? Of the 6500+ employees and students, I am sure that we can find 100-200 that wouldn’t mind doing community service for establishments in the community or mentoring the youth all around Louisiana. Service Learning is required to graduate and many students volunteer in the communities already. By being an active force in the development of youth we will gain the support of our community and attract future students.

Change is not an overnight process, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But with unity we can see this campus change and we can set the building blocks for the future. The gateway Project is an excellent idea, just not for now. Southern University is facing many other issues currently, in the midst of a budget crisis we must stand together and demand better for the students and better for the future! We must be active in voting. Active in senate and board meetings! If we want to see improvements around campus we have to be aware of how change comes about. Proposals must be written. Meetings must be attended and we have to be willing to sacrifice time and funds for a better tomorrow.

Vote No against the gateway project on March 15, 2016 in the cotillion ballroom. This is just the beginning, it will take a collective effort to bring about change. What improvements do you believe would be beneficial to Southern University? Are you willing to invest $3-$7 on the next referendum heading into fall 2016? Awareness is our goal. Then action. Make our voices be heard.

Lenard Tillery III

March 10, 2016 8:30p