UnCommon: Toussaint Losier

Graduate student and trauma care activist Toussaint Losier talks about his arrest, the future of the trauma center campaign, and the chance encounter that led to a private meeting with President Zimmer.

By Madhu Srikantha

[media id=”104803″ align=”left”/]When fourth-year Mauriece Dawson was arrested in the Regenstein Library in 2010, prompting a backlash from students who felt the arrest was racially-motivated, Toussaint Losier co-chaired the ad hoc committee that reviewed the procedures involved in the incident. Three years later, on January 27, Losier, an eighth-year history Ph.D. candidate, found himself handcuffed to a bench in the 2nd District Police Station after UCPD arrested him during a protest against the University of Chicago Medical Center’s lack of a level-one adult trauma care center. Today, he will go to trial to face charges of misdemeanor trespassing and misdemeanor resisting arrest. He sat down with the Maroon to talk about his arrest, the future of the trauma center campaign, and the chance encounter that led to a private meeting with President Zimmer.

Chicago Maroon: Could you describe your role as police liaison and how it played out on January 27 as compared to past demonstrations in which you played the same role?

Toussaint Losier: Well, you know, the thing that was ironic was that the officers, when I got arrested on the 27th, you know, one of the officers…there was a moment when I had already been handcuffed and I was laying on the ground and I was really, really frustrated and I was saying to any officer that would listen to me that I want to speak to the Dean-on-Call, I’ve been asking to speak to the Dean-on-Call, where are they? And there was actually one officer, Officer de la Cruz, who was like, ‘Calm down.  Relax. I’ve seen you at these demonstrations beforehand, you’re a real gentleman, you’re a nice guy, like, relax, take it easy.’

CM: Since the protest and your arrest, what has been the most frustrating part of the aftermath and responses?

TL: I think the thing that was most frustrating really comes out of my experience with that committee where, you know, I spent a lot of time working with, a lot of time that I volunteered working with people in the University to try and figure out how to make this aspect of the University work better. I was really disappointed that in my experience those things didn’t work. Like, the whole process. One of the goals of me being at the demonstration in the first place was to ask that the Dean-on-Call be brought to the scene, and I never got to speak to the DOC…. This is something that didn’t work, something that we spent a lot of time on, that failed. None of those people have followed up with me.

CM: We heard you had a meeting with President Zimmer. How did that come about, and what came from it?

TL: It came about just by coincidence. I was actually out down on Ellis Avenue, saw President Zimmer getting out of his car, and was just like ‘Hey, President Zimmer, how you doing?’ and approached him, shook his hand and started talking to him and just basically asked him if it might be possible to sort of sit down and have a conversation…. And so I had a meeting with President Zimmer and Vice President of Campus and Student Life Karen Warren-Coleman…. I asked whether they were considering dropping the charges and Karen Warren-Coleman said…as far as the University understood it, it was out of their hands. I was not surprised by that answer, because that’s the same thing that I had heard after Mauriece had been arrested….We kind of talked back and forth about completing one’s dissertation….at one point, when he was sort of saying, ‘Look just make sure you sort of sit down and write the thing, that’s the most important thing to do,’ I said, ‘Well, being able to maintain progress on one’s dissertation is difficult when the minimum sentence that comes with a resisting arrest charge is mandatory jail time. So it comes with either 48 hours mandatory jail time and 100 hours of community service. And in response to that, President Zimmer was like, ‘Well, that’s only two weeks. If you get convicted of that, it’s really not that much time that it’s going to take you away from the work you need to do.’….That was kind of…. meant as a joke, but it was just a bit disconcerting…. It made me feel like there was a lack of appreciation not only for the circumstances I was going through but the fact that the primary reason for me having been in that position in the first place was in an effort to try to make sure that students involved in this act of civil disobedience… could be safe.

CM: In your honest opinion, do you think that the campaign for the trauma center will be successful?

TL: I think if it’s simply a question of STOP, FLY, and SHE demanding a trauma center, then it’s not going to happen. I think the constituencies which those groups represent are already so marginal in the larger decision-making process…. The sad thing about it is if you talk about people who matter in the eyes of the University, like, poor, working-class black kids from Woodlawn, Grove Park Complex are the least important folks in the calculation of the University. They’re not donating money, they’re not likely to come to the University, they’re not likely to graduate from high school….the best chance the trauma center has at actually being successful as it directly relates to the University of Chicago is if other people who see the importance of the demand that’s being raised, even if….they don’t understand it as a life or death matter.