#BlackOnCampus Protests Bring Simmering Racial Tensions to the Forefront of College Life

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#BlackOnCampus Protests Bring Simmering Racial Tensions to the Forefront of College Life

Kanya D’Almeida

Over the past seven days thousands of Black student and their allies in dozens of institutions have come out in support of their peers at Mizzou and Yale, using demonstrations, marches and sit-ins to highlight their own longstanding grievances over racial insensitivity, a lack of diverse faculty, and concerns for their safety amid a string of racist attacks.

The student movement that forced University of Missouri President Timothy Wolfe to resign his post last week, paired with the 1,000-strong March of Resilience at Yale University on November 9, has touched off a wave of protests against racism on college campuses across the country.

Over the past seven days thousands of Black student and their allies in dozens of institutions have come out in support of their peers at Mizzou and Yale, using demonstrations, marches, and sit-ins to highlight their own longstanding grievances over racial insensitivity, a lack of diverse faculty, and concerns for their safety amid a string of racist attacks.

Under the Twitter hashtag #BlackOnCampus, which has been trending heavily for days, according to New York Times report, scores of students are sharing experiences of discrimination and racial profiling, as well as their struggles with largely white faculties and administrations who appear unable or unwilling to address institutionalized racism.

Just days after a hunger strike and an athletic boycott pushed the University of Missouri’s Wolfe to step down last Monday, campus police arrested 19-year-old Hunter Parks for posting threatening messages on the anonymous social media site Yik Yak, including one that read: “I’m going to stand my ground tomorrow and shoot every black person I see.”

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Although the culprit was arrested in Rolla, 90 miles south of Mizzou’s Columbia campus, and despite heightened security, many students were too afraid to venture out of their homes or residential halls, and some faculty even canceled classes.

Meanwhile, students at Ithaca College have demanded the resignation of President Tom Rochon, in a call that has garnered widespread support. Coordinated by the group POC at IC, several protest actions including the November 11 “die-in” have drawn attention to a series of racially charged incidents on the campus in upstate New York, including one where a Black student was referred to as a “savage” by two white male alumni.

On November 30, Ithaca’s Faculty Council will hold a vote of no confidence on Rochon, the results of which will be reported to Ithaca’s Board of Trustees on December 14.

Over in Washington D.C., authorities at Howard University ramped up security after an as-yet-unidentified individual posted a deeply threatening racist message to the Internet forum 4chan last Wednesday night.

That incident prompted the administration of the historically Black college to issue a statement promising to “work with campus, local and federal law enforcement on this serious matter,” and triggered a storm of messages in support of the student body, including one tweet by Jonathan Butler, the Mizzou hunger striker, which read: “Dear Howard, Stand strong and remember that they can’t break us. #HUStrong.”

At UCLA, the Afrikan Student Union, known as the Black Bruins, staged a rally on November 12, chanting the words of former Black Panther Assata Shakur often repeated at Black Lives Matter protests: “It is our duty to fight for freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

That same day, students at California’s Claremont McKenna College (CMC) scored a little-known victory when Dean of Students Mary Spellman stepped down under pressure from students of color, including two who launched a hunger strike while calling for her resignation. The week before, students at CMC had reported such attacks as “vandalism at the Queer Resource Center [and] defacement of Black Lives Matter posters,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Elsewhere in the country, from Smith College in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, students confronted college authorities over “systematic oppression,” while others drew attention to the dismal rates of Black faculty on campuses across the country.

Five percent of full-time faculty members at universities and colleges nationwide are Black, according to a comprehensive survey by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE).

Citing the 2007 JBHE report as the “most recent” available data, a November 12 Washington Post article revealed that the number is even lower in some of the nation’s highest-ranking institutions. At Harvard, for instance, just 3.1 percent of faculty members are Black. That number falls to 2.9 percent at Yale, and 2.7 percent at the University of California, Berkeley.

As the Post article pointed out, “If the University of Missouri abides by the Legion of Black Collegians demands … to increase the percentage of black faculty to 10 percent, the university will become a national exemplar.”