Black students at the University of Missouri have been protesting over a series of racial incidents. Over the course of the last few weeks, numerous students have shared their own personal stories of racial episodes on campus.The student government president recounted having racial slurs shouted at him from a passing pickup truck. Another graduate student went on a hunger strike to protest the president on the university, Tim Wolfe, handling of complaints regarding racial bias and racist slurs.
Then two weeks ago 32 members of the football team, majority black, went on a strike demanding the president to step down. This eventually lead to the president of the university, along with another school official, to resign.
Missouri isn’t the only college gaining media attention. All of course the country, students are standing in solidarity with Missouri and even sharing their own accounts of racism on campus. Just recently Yale has been in the news for an incident involving a fraternity allegedly hosting a “white girls only” and a faculty member’s stance on culturally insensitive costumes. At Ithaca College in upstate New York, hundreds of students gather to protest the resignation of their president for the handling of complaints of racial insensitivity on campus. Now at Harvard Law someone apparently vandalized the portraits of black professors at the law school. After a student sit-in, Georgetown University also just recently agreed to rename two of their buildings named after slave owners.
Even at my own alma mater, SUNY Purchase, was in the news earlier this year when students discovered depictions of a swastika and nooses drawn on the walls of three campus dorm rooms. Which then lead to many students protesting the treatment of black student on the campus. All across the country students have been protesting in solidarity with the University of Missouri. As black students recount racially insensitive comments, you begin to realize the shared experience for black students who attend predominately white institutions.
When I attended Purchase, I witnessed plenty of microaggressions and lack of diversity on campus. Our tagline was “Think Wide Open,” but there were was plenty of moments that didn’t fit into our liberal art school cliches. When I was a sophomore, there was a huge debate on campus between the hip-hop and feminist club over a rapper that was supposed to perform at our annual music festival, Culture Shock. Feminists on campus were trying to ban the rapper Cam’ron for having misogynistic lyrics that promoted rape culture. The song is question was “Suck it Or Not.” Hip-Hop club believed that this ban had racial implications, seeing as he was the only black artist playing the show. He was also the only hip-hop artists as well. Black students have been complaining for years that the lineup wasn’t diverse enough. Eventually Cam’ron still performed, regardless of the push-back, but it set the tone for the next couple of years on campus. From Talib Kweli to Lil B, slowly but surely my college tried to listen to the demands from students asking for diversity.
The recent heightened racial tensions at the University of Missouri have bought up conversations about race in higher education. One of the debates that have sparked up: Predominately White Institutions (PWI) vs. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
From the womb I was groomed to be college educated. Both my parents went back to school later in life. My middle school classes were named after college and universities teachers or former students attended. We took class trips to Brown and Harvard. The first time I went to visit Brown, I fell in love with the university. 12-year-old me was convinced that was where I belonged.
After going through a taxing high school application process, where I was accepted to multiple private schools in New York City, but lacking the funds to attend. I realized the college application process would be no different.
My dreams of attending Brown faded away.
For a while I flirted with the idea of attending a HBCU after visiting Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia. At first, the idea of going to an all girls college disinterested me. The interest grew more in high school after experiencing the otherness of being a black girl at a predominately white high school. If a HBCU was even close to Hillman ala A Different World, I was ready to be a free-spirited and idealistic Freddie Brooks.
However, just like my dreams of Brown, Spellman was also out of reach.
With the racial turmoil at PWIs, some would ask why not just attend a HBCU? However, black students attending just HBCUs won’t address the racism at these institutions. Black students choose to attend PWIs for multiple reasons. For me, attending a public college was far more affordable than attending a private university out-of-state. To say the solution is for all black students to attend black colleges is equivalent to saying separate does mean equal. Brown Vs. Board of Education happen 61 years ago. Though we could argue that education is still very much separate and unequal.
From Daniel Johnson medium piece, We can’t fix PWIs by attending HBCUs:
On the contrary, if we are going to change the way that PWIs function for and treat their Black students, we must commit to being visible. We must make noise that even Presidents and Regent boards can’t ignore.
Because we cannot fix PWIs from HBCUs.
Pack up and leave is not the answer to the racial tensions on college campuses. Just like the current protests aren’t just “race agitators” looking to take the white man down. The opportunists looking to dismiss black college students are even using the recent attacks in Paris to call out the protesters. “Now maybe the whining adolescents at our universities can concentrate on something other than their need for ‘safe’ spaces,” tweeted conservative journalist Judith Miller. For once can we understand the oppression doesn’t always look the same. What happened in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad, is truly a tragedy, however what’s happening to black students on college campus is also worth discussing. Socially aware and active people can care about multiple things at the same time. To use one tragedy to dismiss others is disingenuous outcry.