For Students of Color who Strive for College, Admission is not the Only Challenge

Written by: Kacy Martin

Primary Source: Green & Write, December 5, 2015

Racially Motivated Hate Speech on Campus

In recent weeks, the media has reported a rash of racist episodes on college campuses. The incidents range from the overt and fear mongering, such as the makeshift noose hung around the neck of the Black former university president James Meredith’s Statue at Ole Miss, to the suggestive and controversial, as in the case of the white Yale administrator who drafted an email to the entirety of the student body, urging them to wear whatever Halloween costume they wanted, regardless of whether it was racially offensive.

Photo courtesy of William Murphy

Photo courtesy of William Murphy

Other, less prominently reported incidents included attendees dressed in blackface at Kanye West themed fraternity party at UCLA and USC’s student body president reporting a fraternity member shouting a racial epithet and throwing a drink at her. Arguably the most notable incident, however, involved the University of Missouri’s Black student leaders and football players calling for the resignation of university president, Tim Wolfe, after the administration’s repeated failure to address consistent racially charged language and behavior.

Universities have been historically perceived as strongholds of open-mindedness and progressive thought. However, college is also where young people, fresh from their largely homogenous hometowns, encounter people of other religious, ethnic, and political affiliations for the first time. This ignorance in the face of the unfamiliar is leading to some collectively ugly behavior.

Today’s College-bound High School Students Face Challenges Ahead

Green & Write, along with many other sources of information on urban education in America, has often discussed the hope that students of color graduate from high school and attend college in greater numbers. However, little attention is paid to the culture shock that may await these students once they set foot on campus. Current urban students of color will be entering these colleges after many long years of hard work and beating the odds, only to encounter the racist attitudes described above. Some high schools address these challenges directly, attempting to prepare students for this obstacle before students leave for the university. The onus of the clash between students of color and their white classmates should not be on the oppressed party, however. Universities should take an active and aggressive role in addressing racial tension as a regular component of the curriculum.

Progress on the Horizon?

While racial discrimination on college campuses is nothing new, the recent media attention has placed the some responsibility on university administrations to address the problem head-on. Several strategies for approaching this have emerged. The Black Student Alliance at Yale demanded input in faculty hiring processes. At other universities, strict no-tolerance policies demand that racial discrimination is taken seriously. If students know they are going to be expelled, suspended or have their financial aid cut if they participate in racist behavior, it is likely students would reconsider before acting in an offensive manner.

Widespread cultural change is slow to spread, however, and continued conversations about racial friction on college campuses is necessary for long-term progress.

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Kacy Martin
Kacy Martin entered the Educational Policy program in the fall of 2013. After completing a Bachelor and Master's degrees at the University of Michigan, she taught in the Chicago Public Schools, serving on the Instructional Leadership Team and creating professional learning cycles to improve teacher practices in reading instruction. Her research focuses on the impact of parent social networks on school choice in urban districts, the relationship between urban planning and school enrollment, and the politics of education finance at the local and state levels.