JB Pritzker, Governor, State of Illinois

A message from ISAC

June 4, 2020

In the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others, our communities are confronting pain, rage, uncertainty and grief. As students of history, as human beings, we must acknowledge the centuries of pervasive and entrenched racial injustice in this country and its very real and very deadly consequences. This must end.

Every black member of our community deserves as much joy and opportunity and consideration and respect as anyone else on this planet. You matter, your dreams and goals matter. Your life matters.

Even as we send this message of support and commitment to colleagues and constituents and to all people of color, particularly the black members of our community whose pain is so acute right now, we recognize that it is not our words that will ultimately drive the change that is necessary. It is actions.

“The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation.”   -- Nelson Mandela

As an agency with a mission to make education beyond high school accessible and affordable for all Illinoisans, we are witness to the institutionalized racism that creates massive obstacles for people of color in accessing and persisting through postsecondary education, and in job opportunity and career growth. Working to ensure there is funding to support students who would not otherwise have the means to attend college addresses only one piece of the challenge. Racism impacts all facets of life, including access to information, networks, health and adolescent identity development. We can help change that trajectory by addressing flawed systems and redirecting our efforts toward representation and equity.

We can and must do better. Students in every part of this state deserve the opportunity to look at their communities and say, someone like me went to college, someone like me is working in my school, someone like me is part of state government. I can go to college. I can be involved in public policy. All of that isn’t only for other people. I can make a difference. School districts and communities need the skills and tools to support equitable access and preparedness for postsecondary education and workforce development. And students must have adequate financial support that improves access and does not create additional barriers to entry or a lifetime of debt.

ISAC is committed to advancing and protecting programs that support equity and improve access to education. The ISACorps near-peer mentor program connects students with real people just like them in their schools and in their communities, sharing their own educational experience and helping students find their own path to education beyond high school. As we continue to work with our community and school partners to promote equity, we will do it with an intentional focus on how those efforts can address institutional racism. And we are listening. We are exploring new methods to improve our feedback loops to ensure that they are accessible to the students we serve and responsive to their needs.

Finally, we recognize that systemic change is ultimately driven by individuals. It starts with us. The tragedies of the last few months have exposed not only pain and rage, but also the love, unity and support we have for each other. In that spirit, we can seize this moment to reflect as individuals, to have difficult conversations, and to be willing to be uncomfortable. Because the only way out is through. Let’s move forward, together.

Eric Zarnikow
Executive Director, Illinois Student Assistance Commission