By Myrle Cooper
Finally, there’s a group at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) of anti-racist, daring and determined faculty members called the Racial Equity Committee with Kathleen DeVore, Shannon Gibney and (now resigned) SooJin Pate (“Students of color now the majority at MCTC,” MSR, 7/5/12). MCTC’s committee inspires interesting comparisons with St. Cloud State University’s (SCSU) Faculty and Staff of Color Caucus.
One hundred and twenty-four years since illegal slaves were freed from St. Cloud’s last-place aversion community, 93 years after restricting residency to only a couple of dependent subservient Blacks, and 120 years after St. Cloud Normal School opened its doors, SCSU grudgingly hired its first two Black administrators. Bernard Oliver (dean, College of Education, 1989-1992) and Josephine Davis (academic vice president, 1990-1992) became immediate racial targets.
SCSU sent a delegation to Albany, Georgia to verify Davis’ bank accounts and any evidence of controversy. Black competence has always been threatening in Minnesota’s bastion of racism.
As a result, the Faculty and Staff of Color Caucus was organized to support Oliver and Davis in February 1990. Meeting attendees generally included: (a) three or four focused on attacking the racially hostile environment; (b) another 10 or 12 who debated group intentions and simply enjoyed the company of others of color; and (c) two or three who faithfully reported the group’s discussions to SCSU’s presidents, St. Cloud’s mayor, and local police.
Conclusions from a national study on racism involving 250 colleges, universities and their host communities confirmed St. Cloud/SCSU racism. “The St. Cloud study implicates a hostile community and a campus that is equally hostile. Levels of ethnoviolence reported here exceed those in any campus or community study we have received.” Booker T. Washington accommodationists cried foul. Aggressive anti-racists declared war. (“Campus Ethnoviolence and Policy Options”; National Institute Against Prejudice & Violence, March 1990)
Two Black SCSU faculty members backed a Black student walkout hoping Oliver, Davis, and the Minnesota State Universities system would confront St. Cloud racism (October 1991). SCSU President Brendan McDonald was pressured by White alumni, faculty, city hall, local politicians, and a grocery chain owner to control or destroy Black dissent.
Despite efforts to silence news media coverage of anti-racist activities, empathy and support were voiced by system Trustee Nellie Stone Johnson, Chancellor Robert Coruthers, Harry Davis, Gleason Glover and other Twin Cities leaders such as Spike Moss, Jerry McAfee, Yusef Mgeni, James X and, later, the Council on Black Minnesotans directed by Lester Collins. Today, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities’ only Black trustee, Clarence Hightower, is fearfully silent.
Convinced that racism was being carefully ignored by St. Cloud City Hall, SCSU, and Stockholm syndrome Blacks, Oliver and Davis resigned in 1992, disgusted with blatant racism and concerned for family members. By 1994, the Color Caucus was all but impotent.
One Black Color Caucus infiltrator wrote to St. Cloud mayor Larry Meyer saying, “Since November 19, 1994, when the group was formed, its leaders and followers seem determined to start a riot or some form of racial insurrection in St. Cloud… As a black person I feel drafted against my will into this demarcation. Everyone has become a hostage to this group.”
While a few Color Caucus members still aggressively defend students, faculty and administrators of color against the campus’ and community’s most abundant natural resource — bigotry — most others fear defying or embarrassing “massa.” Dignity, passivity and selflessness aside, Rosa Parks would probably laugh at SCSU’s Booker T. Washington “accommodationists” in a community where race-based profiling includes drivers, bus stop bench sitters and walkers at documented seven-to-one ratios of Blacks to Whites.
SCSU’s inability to retain and graduate Black students (i.e., among 685 Blacks enrolled for fall 2009, statistical trends imply only 35-45 will likely graduate by 2015) and vulnerability to losing discrimination lawsuits is ignored by the Color Caucus.
During occasional protest gatherings, acts feature absurd chants and obligatory speeches on unrelated racism. Except for Professor Semya Hakim, whose leadership has kept the Color Caucus alive since 2002, when frantically summoned news reporters arrive, suddenly nobody has details or specifics.
Attention is demanded, cameras and microphones are besieged, but fear-based lack of specificity and glittering generalities disappoint journalists. So many complain about so much, yet so few are willing defy conditions.
Compare MCTC’s climate for diversity with that of SCSU. MCTC’s urban environment accommodates its 53 percent students of color while SCSU’s 10 percent reflects St. Cloud’s hostility. (“Minority recruiting unpopular,” St. Cloud Daily Times; 4/15/85; “St. Cloud State’s ‘challenges’ forged strong alumni bonds,” MSR, 8/6/09; “Downtown rally held to support diversity after assaults,” St. Cloud Times, 5/26/11)
MCTC’s diversity focus, educational mission and progress toward goals exceed SCSU’s. Guess who’ll be last, if ever, to get an ”equity audit by a third-party group outside the MnSCU system.”
Myrle Cooper is retired from SCSU but continues to closely monitor racism and expose a community resisting change. He welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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