Next Steps

These college protests have enacted a lot of change.  Both Mizzou’s president and chancellor stepped down after the controversy swirling around the school and the list of demands put out by Concern Student 1950, Ithaca College’s president stepped down, Amherst College dropped their racist mascot, Lord Jeff, and a few other successes.  While there has been positive change to create a more welcoming atmosphere for all students, there’s still a lot to be done.  The worry or concern about these movements is how do they maintain their cause?  After they are awarded one victory is that it?  Has their mission been accomplished?  The conversation can’t necessarily just stop after a victory because there needs to be productive plan of action in order to sustain the new rules or systems in place.  Looking through some of the websites for the different college organizers, some pages have not been updated since November.  Yes, actual administrative change takes time, but what can the organizers and groups do in the mean time?  I don’t have an answer, but I do know that these issues still persist on many college campuses.  The only thing that I can think of to do is to keep the conversation going and keep the dialogue open.

Demands

I want to share a website I stumbled upon that provides the demands made by 79 different colleges and universities across the United States: http://www.thedemands.org/

79.  None of these racial injustices are new, in fact they’ve existed for what seems forever.  There are direct parallels from the movement today to the movement happening during the 1960s, granted with slight changes/differences.  79 colleges and universities took part and addressed the problems in these campus wide movements regarding Black students and students of color as a whole throughout the whole fall semester of the 2015-2016 academic year, there are probably more.  (Here’s website that provides a useful timeline of the college protests: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/campus-protest-roundup/417570/)

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Jeff Roberson/AP/File

Last semester was difficult for me.  It wasn’t difficult because of my academics, but it was emotionally taxing because what I was seeing all over social media and the news covered incidents and events that I could very much relate to.  Being a Black student on a predominately white campus is hard.  My own campus dealt with our own racial issues and the lack of support that the administration provides.  Clearly my campus is not alone in this and might actually be better in creating a safe space than other campuses, but it still does not erase the struggles and pain dealt with not only Black students, but students of color.  It is frustrating.  It’s frustrating to be a minority on a college campus.  During the admissions process all schools like to boast about their diversity and inclusion, but once those students are actually on campus there’s a lack of support and those minority students are left to fend for themselves.  Where’s the protection?  Where’s the support?  What happened between the admissions process and actual attendance to the school ?  The demands made by those 79 colleges and universities are very real struggles faced by so many students of color, even at some of our nation’s top universities.  To all those who say that racism is no longer a problem or feel that race politics is not important, you’re wrong.  The problems at the college and university level are just playing into a larger system.  These racial issues are not unique to the college world, they exist within the work place, the U.S. public education system, the U.S. criminal justice system, and all the other systems.  This conversation needs to be had and action needs to take place.

Quick Action

Amherst Uprising
image taken from amherstuprising.com

There’s a theme that began to play out last November.  The hashtags continued on social media and students everywhere began to organize in solidarity with the students of color at Mizzou, Yale, and similar institutions.  During most of these solidarity protests students took a look at their own institutions and started to address the racial injustices that they too face on their campuses.  Amherst College, located in Western MA in the Pioneer Valley, organized a sit-in in their library.  An email was sent out by dean notifying faculty about the sit-in and encouraging faculty to allow students to participate.  The sit-in lasted for four days and during those four days a more comprehensive plan was created to take action against the racism that exists on their campus.  The group of students became known as Amherst Uprising.  The students created a list of immediate demands and long term goals and set a deadline for the demands to be met for the administration of Amherst College.  Some of the demands included an apology from the college’s president to students, staff, and faculty of color for the lack of safe space created for them to succeed while at Amherst College, a zero tolerance policy for racial insensitivity and hate speech, and a change of the school’s mascot Lord Jeff, a historical figure whose actions are offensive and racist to students, faculty, and staff.  All of this took place in four days.  Four days.  It’s amazing that students were able to organize a plan of action that was put out to public so quickly, but at the same time they needed to move quickly.  Students should not be facing these types of issues especially in an environment where everyone has been given the opportunity to come further their education, but yet not all students are able to thrive at the same level because of these racial injustices.

For more information on the Amherst Uprising here’s a link to the group’s website: http://amherstuprising.com/index.html

Keep Your Mouth Shut.

We’re back to opinions, sort of.  Now according to the Google dictionary an opinion is “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge”.  Key part of that definition is “not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”  Now, I want to bring idea of Freedom of Speech, which is protected under the constitutions first amendment or better known as the Bill of Rights.  Freedom of speech is the right to express one’s opinion without any type of censorship.  Do you see a problem?  It makes complete sense that we as Americans are allowed to express our thoughts and opinions without having to be censored, but freedom of speech is a powerful thing.  While everyone is entitled to an opinion, there are times where you should just keep your mouth shut.  I’ll give you an example and try to explain what I mean.

Back in October/November of 2015 (Fall 2015 was very eventful) a letter was sent out to Yale students that was in response to a warning about wearing insensitive costumes that may be cultural appropriation or a misinterpretation.  The letter sent out asked the following question: “I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious, a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”  The letter was sent out by lecturer, Erika Christakis, an expert in early childhood education and she made a big mistake.  While she didn’t explicitly tell students to wear blackface or dress as Native Americans, the underlying idea is that it would be okay if students chose to participate in cultural appropriation and be completely insensitive to a group of marginalized people all because children should be able to be “inappropriate or… offensive”.  Again everyone is entitled to an opinion, but there is a difference between right and wrong.  It would be wrong for students to engage in inappropriate costumes that may offend other people especially since only certain students hold that privilege to be able to do so in the first place.  This is a case where maybe Erika Christakis should have kept her mouth shut.

 

Check out the NY times article about the incident: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/08/us/yale-lecturer-resigns-after-email-on-halloween-costumes.html

Power of Social Media

With the advancements of technology and the increased knowledge of the internet, social media has become a huge platform for one to promote oneself, one’s ideas, or one’s beliefs.  Many social and political movements are turning to social media to spread awareness and information on their cause.  A prime example of media activism is the Black Lives Matter movement, which started on the social media site, Twitter.  It’s a sign that the times are changing and social media has been really beneficial today’s civil rights movements.  So it’s no surprised that after the protests at Mizzou began to blow up, student groups across the nation at different institutions began to speak up and stand in solidarity with the Black students at Mizzou.  Schools like Ithaca College, Yale, my very own Mount Holyoke College organized themselves to show support in the forms of walk-outs and rallies.  Spaces were created for students of color to share their own experiences being on a predominately white campus.  Students came together because as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.  Social media has been a driving force behind sharing the various protests and actions happening on college campuses.  It really exposed people to the fact that Black Lives Matter means so much more.  It’s the day to day struggle that Black students and students of color face when being in a space that is not fully accepting of them or actually was not really created for them–us in the first place.

#ConcernedStudent1950

#ConcernedStudent1950 and the University of Missouri became a trending topic all over social media in early November 2015.  My Facebook feed was filled with the same status posted over and over again: “To the students of color at Mizzou. We students of color at Mount Holyoke College stand with you in solidarity. To those who would harm them or threaten their sense of safety, the world is watching.” with the variations of the following tags, #ConcernedStudent1950, #InSolidarityWithMizzou, #BlackCollegiateSolidarity.  Something big had happened.  Who was this “concerned student”?  What incident involving a Black person’s life happened again?  What was going on back in Missouri?

#ConcernedStudent1950 is a hashtag created in reference to the Black activists on the University of Missouri’s campus called Concerned Student 1950.  The significance to the name is to honor the first Black student admitted into the university in 1950.  The student organization was created to combat the racial hostility that had been allowed without any action or response from the university.  The last line of the status, “To those who would harm them or threaten their sense of safety, the world is watching,” refers to the growing hostility where Black students were dealing with death threats and were being openly harassed by white students.  Black students were at a point where they no longer felt physically safe on campus and created an uproar across the nation, hitting home with many Black college students, including myself.  The question is what led to these events on Mizzou’s campus?  One pivotal moment was protestors blocked the university’s president’s car during the Homecoming parade in early October 2015.  The protestors attempted to voice their concerns about the growing racial hostility on the campus directly to the president, but were largely ignored.  The student group, Concerned Student 1950, then created a list of demands, which included an apology from the university’s president for their negligence in addressing the issues that exist on the campus and creation of plan to increase inclusiveness and racial awareness.  The students’ protests and demands led to the university’s president to step down.

Here’s a link to the group’s twitter to obtain more information on their story and their current actions: https://twitter.com/cs_1950?lang=en

Also here is a CNN article with a brief timeline of the events: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/09/us/missouri-protest-timeline/

And two other articles that go into more detail about the incidents that happened at Mizzou here: http://blavity.com/mizzouhungerstrike-is-what-happens-when-universities-disregard-black-lives/

http://www.bustle.com/articles/122575-what-is-concerned-student-1950-the-university-of-missouri-peaceful-protests-were-led-by-a-standout

Image:
Concerned Student 1950 (Sarah Bell/Missourian via AP)