SAVOY — Willard Airport will have its staff take diversity training after a University of Illinois professor said he felt he was racially profiled at the UI-owned facility last week.
African American studies Professor Erik McDuffie said that after receiving a gate pass and watching his daughter board her flight Thursday, an administrator apparently followed him through the security corridor and asked what he was doing at the airport.
“He politely asked if I ‘was waiting for someone,’” McDuffie wrote in an email Friday to Tim Bannon, the airport’s executive director. “After I explained what I was doing, I turned toward the stairs.”
While the situation didn’t escalate, McDuffie, who is Black, said he quickly left, as he was “concerned about my personal safety.”
He called the encounter “very disturbing” and said it “felt like racial profiling.”
“I hadn’t done anything wrong and I was at the airport to see my daughter off on her trip,” McDuffie wrote.
“Yet, a White male airport official apparently went out of his way to ask what I was doing in the airport. I wondered if he would have treated me similarly if I had been a White man.”
McDuffie said he wants other travelers of color “who have experienced what I’ve experienced to know they weren’t alone.”
“Yesterday was not an isolated incident.”
“It was part of a pattern of problems I’ve encountered over the years at Willard and other airports — mainly in the United States — with security and airport personnel,” McDuffie wrote. “I have been routinely subjected to enhanced screenings, bag searches, etc. at Willard and other airports even though I am a frequent air traveler enrolled in TSA pre-check.”
In his response Saturday to McDuffie, Bannon also apologized. On that Thursday, he wrote, Willard was being inspected by the Transportation Security Administration, and that in the administrator’s role as airport safety coordinator, he was performing random security checks throughout the day.
“The safety and security of our travelers/passengers is our top priority,” Bannon wrote. “I am happy to hear that (the administrator) was polite while interacting with you, customer service is also a top priority.”
On Monday, Bannon told The News-Gazette that security footage of the encounter “indicates that the employee acted within his duties as the Airport Security Coordinator.”
He also said he’d be contacting the UI’s vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion to schedule diversity training.
McDuffie said it’s important for administrators and enforcement officials to think about how their actions with people of color are perceived.
“They need to understand that any time they confront a person of color, it’s very likely that person of color is going to be uneasy, to put it lightly, with being asked what they’re doing, just in light of how common racial profiling is,” McDuffie said.
“I don’t know any Black person who doesn’t have a story or stories of bad encounters with police and authorities.”