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Higher learning: Racism at America’s colleges

Cyril Josh Barker | 11/12/2015, 11:48 a.m.
Activism and protests at America’s colleges and universities this week has put the spotlight on racism in higher education.
Emboldened by recent upheavals at the University of Missouri, hundreds of Ithaca College students staged a walkout Wednesday to demand the resignation of President Tom Rochon, who they claim has not responded adequately to incidents of racism on campus. Ann Marie Adams

Activism and protests at America’s colleges and universities this week has put the spotlight on racism in higher education. Even as schools entice Black students with scholarships and a “quality” education, recent news begs the question if they are welcomed.

From a noose being placed on a statue of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi to Black students at the University of Washington being called “apes” during a protest and swastikas and nooses being drawn on dormitory walls at SUNY Purchase, it’s clear there is a race problem at America’s colleges.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 146 cases of racial harassment on college and university campuses have been recorded in 2015. That’s down from 177 from the previous year but up from 96 in 2009.

The University of Missouri continues to be the epicenter of controversy when the school’s president, Timothy Wolf, and chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, resigned from their posts this week after Black football players announced they won’t practice or play until Wolfe resigned. Forfeiting the upcoming game against Brigham Young University would have cost the university a hefty fine.

The protest sparked widespread complaints from Black students on campus who reported they had been victims of hate crimes and racial slurs and that the university did nothing in response.

A key figure in the mix is the president of student government, Payton Head, who is Black and claimed that unidentified people in the back of a passing pickup truck directed racial slurs at him. As a result, Head went on a hunger strike.

“For those of you who wonder why I’m always talking about the importance of inclusion and respect, it’s because I’ve experienced moments like this multiple times at this university, making me not feel included here,” he said on social media.

The student group “Concerned Student 1950,” referring to the first year the University of Missouri admitted Black students, has been a driving force in the efforts to change things on campus.

The group has made a list of demands to change the campus’ culture, including increased percentages of Black faculty and staff campuswide to 10 percent, more funding for counseling services and funding and more resources and personnel for the social justice center on campus.

Tuesday, the school announced that Chuck Henson, associate dean for academic affairs and trial practice in the MU School of Law, had been named interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity, effective immediately.

Henson, who is Black, has been with the university since 2009. During that time, he has served as an adjunct professor, visiting professor of law and trial practice professor of law.

News also broke Wednesday that campus police apprehended the suspect who posted threats against Black people on the campus on social media app Yik Yak and other social media outlets this week. The suspect was in campus police custody and was not located on or near the MU campus at the time of the threat.

“We had additional officers on patrol last night and the campus remained safe,” MUPD Major Brian Weimer said. “We investigated a number of reports and tips and take every one of them seriously. MU continues operating on a regular schedule.”

Meanwhile, at Yale University, thousands of students marched on the campus Monday to participate in the “March of Resilience” over racial incidents at the Ivy League school. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s son, Dante, who is biracial, participated in the march.

The march stems from an Oct. 30 incident when white fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon held a “white girls only” party. A Black female student said on Facebook that she was turned away from the party. The fraternity denies the incident happened.

Yale’s Black Student Alliance has also rolled out a list of demands, including for the fraternity to admit that the racial incident happened, mandatory diversity sensitivity trainings for all faculty, staff and students and students able to give input on the hiring of professors and other programs related to hiring professors of color.