Confronting Campus Racism
“Oh there’ll never be a n____r in SAE! Oh there’ll never be a n____r in SAE!…”
It’s the chant being heard round the world. A group of white, raucous, fraternity brothers have shown the world what many of us already know: Racism is still alive and well in America.
As a college professor, I absolutely marvel at the number of students who think racism is behind us. I recently offered extra credit to my students for going to see the film Selma, and writing a critical reflection about the film. Many of them wrote things like, “I’m so glad our country is past that…” or “Fortunately, those things don’t happen today…” Too often racism is looked upon as an unfortunate occurrence in our Nation’s past, a pesky blemish on an otherwise spotless record.
Yet, the racially charged actions in Florida with Trayvon Martin, or in Ferguson with Mike Brown, and now the University of Oklahoma, are just more confirmation that we, as a nation, still have a long way to go. When these events occur in the college community, it’s even more disappointing because higher education is supposed to be a place where students learn to think critically and elevate the dialogue about racism, not take revert back to the Jim Crow Era.
When racism erupts in the college community, students must contend with feelings of anger, rage, hurt, bewilderment, and paranoia. It breeds distrust when students don’t know if the classmate sitting next to him is secretly chanting about lynching him behind closed doors. Left unaddressed, these feelings can turn into violence and chaos.
As such, whenever there is an issue of racism that needs to be confronted on campus, keep these points in mind:
1) Assess – Get all of the facts before you react. Racism breeds a powder keg of emotion, so before you take any action, make sure you fully understand what has occurred. This doesn’t mean that the occurrence has to be as blatant as singing songs about lynching. Subtle, racist gestures, known as microagressions can be equally hurtful.
2) Accountability – We live in the age of social sharing. Ordinarily, those students from the University of Oklahoma chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) would have been chanting that song in the comfort and privacy of closed quarters. However, one student was brave enough to capture the footage and release it to the public. Racism continues when we don’t hold one another accountable. Students need to know that these actions have consequences. As such, that chapter of SAE has since been closed, students have been expelled, and the university has severed all ties with the organization.
3) Awareness – In the absence of education, ignorance prevails. Students should know what the college or university’s stance is on diversity. Beyond that, it should be clear to every member of the campus community how diversity is encouraged, celebrated, or embraced in that community. If it isn’t students can hold the leadership accountable by attending board meetings, which are usually open to the public.
4) Action – This past weekend, thousands gathered in Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of civil rights leaders marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge to protest unjust laws in America. Many in that group were college students who worked with community organizers to unite for a common cause. Change didn’t happen overnight; and it didn’t come without sacrifice, but it did come. College students today can borrow a page from that playbook and organize to protest racist occurrences in the campus community and join in the fight to achieve justice for all.
Getting TO college is one thing; Getting THROUGH college is quite another. That’s why Dr. Shante’ offers strategic advice on being successful both in and out of the classroom. From catalogs to cap and gown, Dr. Shante shares what it takes to ‘Stomp the Yard” with confidence and clarity! You can follow her on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter