Students at the University of Missouri, University of Michigan, University of California Los Angeles, Yale University, Ithaca College and many others have reawakened the sleeping public from the myth of post-racial America, a fictitious world in which all races are seen and treated equally and racism is swiftly and justly handled, especially on university campuses where students come together for the sole purpose of learning and bettering themselves to better society.
This is, of course, a fantasyland, as these students continue to remind us.
A rash of protests have broken out across these campuses and try as the GOP might to sweep away the protests and the events leading up to them, these students’ cries out against injustice and the systemic racism they’ve encountered will not be ignored or going away anytime soon.
Though the protests have sprung up within the past few weeks and may seem to have been spurred by recent events (offensive Halloween party themes, the presence of swastikas on campus, lack of response from administration), every case of racially-driven protests circle around to the same point: this has been a long time coming and is long overdue.
The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly, among other things.
However, hate speech is an exception to this amendment and not subject to protection.
Students from all corners of the U.S. including Ithaca College in New York to UCLA to University of Michigan have demonstrated their solidarity with the much-publicized events at the University of Missouri and use this time as a platform to air out their own unique displays of racial intolerance.
Students at UCLA, for example, gathered and chanted “Black Bruins Matter” outside of Chancellor Gene Blocks’s office on Oct 8, after fraternity Sigma Pi Epsilon and sorority Alpha Pi held a racially charged “Kanye Western” Halloween party, where students were told to dress either as Kanye West or a member of the Kardashian family.
White students arrived wearing chains, sagging pants, form-fitting dresses with padded butts and in some cases, blackface.
Yale encountered a problem in the same vein as UCLA.
Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent a mass email to students asking them to be mindful of avoiding offensive Halloween costumes that had roots in cultural insensitivity.
A faculty member and administrator of a residential community within Yale,
Erika Christakis, sent an email to her students challenging the committee’s email. Christakis’s email expressed frustration with the university’s outreach on controlling what students choose to wear, her main point being that an academic setting should be one setting where offense at a costume should be set aside so an engaging conversation about what about the costume is offensive can transpire.
This was not well received by many students.
Hundreds signed an open letter disparaging her remarks, saying “To ask marginalized students to throw away their enjoyment of a holiday, in order to expend emotional, mental and physical energy to explain why something is offensive, is — offensive.”
The university that has generated the most press for its recent protests would have to be the University of Missouri.
The University of Missouri has had a long and documented history with racial tension on campus, most recently with the lack of action from their former president Tim Wolfe after students—including their student government association president—continuously expressed their feeling of lack of inclusion on campus and in the community reached a paramount resulting in his resignation on Nov. 9.
Blaming one person for a lack of change on the campus may seem short sighted.
After all, Wolfe isn’t responsible for the actions of every student, staff member or professor on campus.
On the other hand, Wolfe had many opportunities to generate a conversation about diversity and acceptance on campus and directly address students when they surrounded his car in protest on Oct. 10 during a homecoming event.
He stayed in his car.
It took the football team refusing to practice or play, jeopardizing the university losing $1 million according to Business Insider, and a graduate student going on a hunger strike, to get Wolfe to acknowledge his failings as a leader and step down.
In an ideal world, none of this would be happening.
Students at UCLA—one of the most revered universities in the U.S., would see beyond whatever ironic humor they found in hosting a “Kanye Western” themed Halloween party, Yale students wouldn’t need to be compelled to point out that their culture is not a costume and people of color would have equal representation in faculties and administrations.
That isn’t the world we live in, though, and to continue to believe so in the face of these monumental protests is to avert our eyes from a part of history unraveling right in front of us.