Black students demand changes at many predominantly White schools
A University of Minnesota student group last year presented a lengthy list of demands to top school officials and held a sit-in protest at a campus building this past February. Yale University students of color last week presented a similar list to its school president, with a five-day deadline to respond.
A group of Missouri Black football players strongly told officials that they would no longer participate in any team activities, including playing in games, until their fellow Black students’ demands concerning racial incidents on campus were better addressed. It resulted in the resignations of the school president and its chancellor.
Black students and other students of color on predominately White campuses are being more specific in their demands, saying they believe racial incidents aren’t being addressed quickly enough or taken seriously enough by school officials.
University of North Florida Associate Sociology Professor Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder spoke with the MSR by phone. She pointed out that the recent action at the University of Missouri could be a blueprint for similar outcomes at other campuses.
“They got what they wanted,” she noted. “If we have communities of color and marginalized [people] be specific with their demands…we might be further along in addressing our race issues.”
“We can’t pretend that a political stance taken by students of color isn’t real,” declared University of Minnesota graduate student Rahsaan Mahadeo, a member of the Whose Diversity? student group. He told the MSR after the Missouri resignations were announced, “I was more heartened than surprised about the victories won by students of color at Mizzou.”
Although the Missouri football players’ boycott threat seemingly brought down its school leaders, actually it was a hunger strike announced by a Black graduate student at the school that many believe was the turning point.
“They may have been the key, but look at the outcome,” added Wilder. “It could have been easy [for the Black athletes] to do nothing.”
There’s virtually a “cookie cutter” of similar concerns that Black students and other students of color face nationwide, noted Indiana University doctoral student Johari Shuck. What’s needed are quicker responses to racial incidents by school officials and more diversity and inclusion, among others things, she explained. “There’s a lot wrong at these predominately White institutions when it comes to the education of students of color.”
Shuck pointed out that the Black players “are Black students. That’s who they are at their school. Just because they are playing football doesn’t mean they are not experiencing being called the N-word or being looked at crazy in class because they are Black. Even if they’re not, their friends are, and they are empathizing with their friends.”
Wilder warns that Black college athletes should not be relied on to lead protests for change. “What works for the University of Missouri is not going to work at my institution because we don’t have a football team,” said the distinguished national expert and scholar of colorism in Black American society. Wilder also specializes in diversity, race relations and gender issues. “Things [are happening] at my university as well.”
Wilder said that college leaders “really need to find out what these demands are” from Black students and other students of color on their campuses. “It’s more than just trying to appease people.”
“Ultimately,” said Mahadeo, “I hope that students of color — especially those of us that don’t come from financial privilege or academic lineage — can engage in this process of remembering to keep one foot in the academy and one in the community that made us.”
More on the Missouri student protests in this week’s “Another View” sports column.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com