“Black Students Matter” — Have You Talked with Your Own Kids About This?
By Lisbeth Gant-Britton
November 30, 2015 – As black college students return from the Thanksgiving holiday wondering if Black Students Matter, many of them may take heart from Brown University’s current November 20, 2015 proposal to spend up to $100 million to address racism and diversity on that campus throughout the decade. Students of color at that institution had called for change following a recent situation in which campus police mistakenly “slammed” a Dartmouth student into handcuffs, although he was only on campus to participate in a Latino student conference.[i]
Meanwhile, on that same Friday, November 20, 2015, across the country at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, an African American college student told police he was assaulted by three other college-age males, all white and hurling racial epithets, near the campus swimming pool. According to reports, the student managed to fend off the attackers and get back to his dorm room. Earlier in the week, students on that campus had also noted racial slurs on a social message app, but authorities do not know if the incidents are directly related. Meanwhile, a broad cross-section of Lewis and Clark students has already held a large sit-in to protest the racially-charged remarks.
Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales noted: “While we are a city that prides itself on the broad protection of free speech, no matter how abhorrent the content may be, I am calling on all of us to stand together against the use of ugly, disturbing language that inexcusably threatens or otherwise creates fear in any other person.”[ii]
To date, black student groups on more than 23 campuses around the country have issued manifestoes concerning the theme of Black Students Matter and Black Lives Matter. From Yale to UCLA, they recount incidents with a similar ring: what they consider to be incidences of disrespectful treatment by their student peers and/or others on campus, expressions of outright racial or ethnic hostility.[iii] Racially insensitive situations outside of class have even been found at Harvard, where last week students discovered black tape on the portraits of (only) the black professors in the prestigious law school.[iv]
Harvard Law School
In nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, Springfield College President, Mary-Beth A. Cooper, agreed with students on that campus who held a moment of silence regarding recent racial incidents at the University of Missouri and elsewhere: “We must take seriously our role in making certain that every member of our community—faculty, staff, and student—is open to dialogue and are prepared socially to engage in the conversations that allow us to embrace and celebrate diversity.”[v]
I clearly remember an incident on a campus where I used to teach. I was one of the few African American professors there. One evening, a newly-arrived African American student from an urban background went back to his dorm room, only to find that someone had set it on fire. Although the actual blaze was small, its message was loud and clear. I remember the speed with which faculty and administrators gathered to assess the situation. We attempted to make the fastest possible provisions for campus-wide, dorm by dorm dialogues about the incident. While deployment of this procedure was by no means easy, I think it went a long way towards bringing forth an important teaching opportunity in as timely a manner as possible. To varying degrees, teaching moments are occurring today around these current issues on many of the campuses in question.
University of Missouri, November 9, 2015-Resignation of resignation of President Tim Wolfe[vi]
But today’s situations cry out for even more concerted support from concerned adults of all races and persuasions, on campus and off. This is not just an ivory tower issue. It is a major teaching moment in the broadest sense possible. It’s our opportunity to help as many young people of all races, ethnicities, religious and cultural persuasions come to meaningful terms with these situations and learn from them. Many adults have already been weighing in, but young people need to see even more people of good conscience honestly and openly grappling with these situations ourselves. Have you had a talk with your own kids about this? As parents and concerned adults, we remember the tumultuous times this country has already been through. No one wants our precious young ones to have to go through that nowadays. The only way to prevent going backwards is the old-school way: to have our kids put down the cell phones and stop sending the texts long enough to talk with us face to face—to do some serious soul-searching–perpetrators and victims alike.
If you have ideas about how to get such a conversation going in your family or neighborhood, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you. Because we think you agree that Black Students Matter—very much.
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