Students speak out, unite and join the fight against racial injustices on college campuses across the country. The University of Missouri leaders, President Tim Wolf and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin were ousted following a long stint of ignoring the cries of violence, threats and racially insensitive comments facing Black students. The University of Missouri students began to take action and demand that changes be met. Boycotts and protests took place on campus. One graduate student went on a hunger strike. The final blow was when the football team and faculty stood in unity and refused to play football until the leadership were removed. This action could have resulted in the football team being fined $1 million dollars.
Several other students have spoken out against racially insensitive incidents on their campuses. Yale students were outraged at a fraternity hosting a “whites only” party and Halloween costumes stereotyping students of color. At Ithaca College, a Black alumnae was referred to as “the savage”. Other racially charged incidents include a black student at Lewis and Clark College being beaten by whites yelling racial slurs.
In the wake of these events, Penn State students gathered together in front of Old Main chanting “Now more than ever!” in a peaceful protest to show their solidarity for University of Missouri. Penn State has had its share of racial insensitivity on campus and within the broader State College community. Racially insensitive comments targeting African American students were posted on Yik Yak social media site last year after a campus die in in a peaceful protest for the black males that were killed by police officers. A sorority on campus circulated photos on social media that depicted over a dozen members of the sorority dressed in stereotypical Mexican clothing and signs “Will mow lawn for weed + beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it”. In the larger community pictures of white high school students wearing T-shirts with racial slurs on them went viral. Penn State students have also expressed concerns about the ongoing micro-aggressions that take place in the classroom that often times go unaddressed by white faculty. One African American graduate student in the College of Education at Penn State stated, “It’s like we [Black students] are invisible in the classrooms here and they [white professors and white students] just don’t care. I told my professor my concerns about the micro-aggressions that were taken place in the classroom and her response was like ‘what do you want me to do? There is no pill for ignorance.’” Another student, an undergraduate in the College of Education shares her class experience and states, “They all gang up on me [white students] and try to tell me my experiences as a black person is not real. I try to defend myself and I am the only Black person in the class. I fell so alone. I was so angry and all I could do is cry. It’s scary to think that one day these students are going to be out there educating students one day”. Penn State, similar to University of Missouri, has a low percent of African American students and faculty on campus. Both Mizzou and Penn State have less than 9% of African American students enrolled on campus, and both schools also have less than 3% African American faculty. The low percentage of faculty and students of color on campuses across the country places people of color on campuses in a racially hostile environment that can hinder their learning experience, health, mental health and well-being on campus.
The University of Missouri students have made demands for improvements of the campus climate. As a result of these demands, the university has created an action initiative for improvements. Some of the highlights of the action plan include an evaluation of the recruitment strategies for minority students and faculty, public reading of bias reporting, mandatory intergroup dialogue and training for Greek life and the student body, and disciplinary action for students that participate in cyber bullying.
It’s important for Penn State students and faculty to think about what action we can take to make a better learning environment for our campus. Solidarity and demands for action brings change and for many students of color on campus, the time is now, more than ever!