The University community is no stranger to protests in recent years, with several student groups calling for the administration to improve race relations and increase diversity on campus. Therefore, the events of this past week at the University of Missouri should be of no surprise to anyone paying attention to the realities that Black students face each and every day on college campuses across the nation. But therein lies the problem: Not enough people are paying attention. Too many deny the existence of institutional racism.
That must change now.
The School of Social Work People of Color Collective led a demonstration on the Diag Wednesday evening to stand in solidarity with the Black community at the University of Missouri. Hundreds of University community members gathered to share personal experiences and show their support. The demonstration comes after months of racial tension on Missouri’s campus, which culminated in the resignation of the Missouri system's president, Timothy Wolfe, on Nov. 9.
A prominent student activist group at Mizzou, Concerned Student 1950 — which refers to the first year Black students were admitted to the university — led an aggressive push for Wolfe’s resignation after it became evident he was incapable of dealing with racism on campus. The group also called for a formal apology from Wolfe along with eight other demands of the administration. These efforts echo similar actions taken by the University of Michigan’s Black Student Union, which led a protest in January 2014 that garnered national attention about issues of race on college campuses.
In the cases of both Missouri and Michigan, student groups criticized the inaction of their respective university administrators and called for reform to increase education about race in course curricula, enrollment of ethnic minorities and accessibility to safe spaces on campuses, such as multicultural centers. There’s no denying the differences in the cultural climates at the University of Missouri and on our campus. But the overarching commonalities in these demands illustrate the urgent need to address the institutional racism ever-present in our nation that takes shape in many forms: lack of minority representation and inclusivity on college campuses, discriminatory criminal justice policy and voter registration laws, police brutality and so much more.
This week, our University hosted the Diversity Summit to collect opinions on how to devise a campus-wide plan to improve inclusion and diversity on campus. These efforts — along with those aimed at increasing minority enrollment, expanding education about race in curricula and improving the Trotter Multicultural Center — demonstrate a legitimate attempt to stimulate a broad conversation about race on campus and create tangible change. But there’s a long, long way to go. For starters, the entire campus community must listen to, sympathize with and learn about the very real and urgent struggles that Black students — and all students of color — face in 2015.
In other words, wake up and pay attention.