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Students Denied By Mother's Bar Allege Racism And Demand Change; Group Threatens Lawsuit

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Two weeks after six black students from Washington University in St. Louis were denied entry into the Original Mother's Chicago bar, the student body wants to make an example of Mother's -- and wants the bar's help to do it.

At a two-hour campus forum Monday night, more than 400 students decided that rather than try to punish the bar for its racist ways, it wants Mother's to agree to change them.

"The end decision was to try to turn a negative into a positive," senior class president Fernando Cutz, who ran the forum, told the Huffington Post. "We don't want to penalize Mother's just for the sake of penalizing them."

Six black students in a group of 200 seniors that traveled to Chicago two weekends ago were told they could not come into Mother's because their pants were too baggy, even though white students similarly dressed were admitted. The students said that they offered to change their clothes but were still told that they could not come in.

Lodge Management, which owns Original Mother's, said in a statement that they do not discriminate and are looking into the incident.

"We strive to create an environment in which all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, can have an enjoyable time at our establishment," the management said in the statement. "Consequently, we are conducting a detailed investigation of the events this past Saturday evening to determine what happened and why."

A former Lodge Management employee, who worked the door at Bootleggers across the street, told the Huffington Post that when he was being trained he was told not to admit groups of black men or anyone who "looked thug."

"It was definite policy to not admit people who looked like trouble," the former employee said. "They never said 'black,' but they said 'ghetto,' and everyone knew what that meant."

The policy was the same at Mother's as it was at Bootleggers, the former employee said, adding that Bootleggers turned groups away at least once a night.

Students held a brief protest the day after they were turned away and later filed a complaint with the civil rights bureau of the Illinois Attorney General's Office.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office said that the bureau is in the process of reaching out to the students involved and has not yet decided whether to open an investigation.

University Chancellor Mark Wrighton sent a letter to Mayor Richard M. Daley expressing his "intense disappointment" at what happened and describing it as a setback for the city that had produced the nation's first African American president.

"I trust you will investigate this matter fully and take the steps necessary to ensure that similar incidents do not occur to future visitors to the City of Chicago," Wrighton wrote.

The city's Commission on Human Relations, which handles civil rights complaints, has done some preliminary work but is waiting for the students to file an official complaint with the agency before it makes a full investigation, an agency spokesman told the Huffington Post.

A spokesman for the mayor could not confirm that Daley had seen or read the letter but was confident that he was aware of what happened at Mother's.

"The city is aware of it," spokesman Lance Lewis said. "And if human relations is aware of it, I'm sure the head of the agency has briefed the mayor."

The incident has drawn the Washington University campus community together to an extent rarely seen, Cutz said, with students constantly updating their Facebook profiles and linking to media coverage of the aftermath.

"There's two or three vocal people who think that maybe it wasn't racism, but I'd say 99 percent of the students are very, very actively supportive of us," Cutz said.

The university's administration has also rallied behind the students, offering legal counsel to those considering a lawsuit against the bar.

"Washington University's General Counsel's office is not taking on a legal position on behalf of the students, but is just offering advice as it likely would to any student in a similar situation," wrote Sue Killenberg McGinn, executive director of campus communications, in an e-mail. "If the students were to take any legal action, it most likely would be taken on an individual basis."

A contingent of students from Northwestern University also traveled to St. Louis to attend the forum as a show of solidarity. An e-mail Cutz sent to the Washington University student body was also forwarded to students at Northwestern.

Cutz said that in discussions after the forum with the six students involved, the group agreed to draft a letter to Mother's, asking the bar to make changes or face a possible lawsuit from the group.

According to a letter sent to Mother's by the Anti-Defamation League, the bar could face charges of racial discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Illinois Human Rights Act.

A lawyer for Mother's reached out to Cutz Tuesday afternoon and expressed an interest in resolving the matter.

Cutz said he expects to have a list of demands by Wednesday and will announce them at a press conference.

"This is not just something that happened that night, it happens every night all over the country," Cutz said. "We want to turn into an example, but also have them help us turn themselves into an example so bars across the country can see it doesn't have to be this way."

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