US col­leges try to deal with racial in­ci­dents

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: Of­fi­cials were slow to han­dle racial in­ci­dents at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri, and that con­trib­uted to protests, a stu­dent hunger strike, a threat­ened boy­cott by the foot­ball team and ul­ti­mately, the res­ig­na­tions of two ad­min­is­tra­tors. At the Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa, dam­age over a racist chant that was caught on video was kept to a min­i­mum when the school pres­i­dent acted quickly to ex­pel the stu­dents and con­demn the episode.

Swift ac­tion is high among the best prac­tices that school lead­ers can use to help defuse cam­pus tension, ex­perts say. “There’s no such thing as hav­ing a per­fect plan, but you have to con­tin­u­ally be in the mo­tion of cre­at­ing a bet­ter cam­pus cli­mate,” said Jabar Shu­mate, Ok­la­homa’s vice pres­i­dent for the univer­sity com­mu­nity. Ben­jamin Reese, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Di­ver­sity Of­fi­cers in Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, said ad­min­is­tra­tors should not wait for stu­dents to de­mand a meet­ing. In­stead, he said, they can in­vite stu­dents to strate­gic meet­ings and join stu­dents in protests if it’s over an is­sue they agree with. Ad­min­is­tra­tors should know what they are go­ing to do be­fore some­thing hap­pens and be will­ing to speak out im­me­di­ately, Reese said.

For ex­am­ple, Har­vard Univer­sity Pres­i­dent Drew Faust im­me­di­ately con­demned the tap­ing over of por­traits of black pro­fes­sors on a wall. “Such acts of ha­tred are in­im­i­cal to our most fun­da­men­tal val­ues and rep­re­sent an as­sault on the mu­tual re­spect es­sen­tial to our pur­poses as a com­mu­nity of learn­ing and in­quiry,” Faust said a day af­ter that hap­pened. “We all ab­so­lutely need to pre­pare and there’s a lot of things that we can do,” said Nancy Can­tor, chan­cel­lor of Rut­gers Univer­sity-Newark, who joined stu­dents at her univer­sity at a re­cent protest. Col­lege lead­ers can­not cre­ate per­fect en­vi­ron­ments, Reese said, “but I bet­ter try as hard as I can to work to­ward that en­vi­ron­ment.” He plans a na­tional meet­ing to help col­leges come up with strate­gies.


Cam­pus protests are oc­cur­ring al­most daily. At Mis­souri, the per­ceived slow re­sponse to a se­ries of episodes marked by racial slurs and graf­fiti sparked protests and the res­ig­na­tions. Stu­dents are protest­ing at places such as Yale, where a col­lege ad­min­is­tra­tor up­set many stu­dents by push­ing back against a school com­mit­tee that asked stu­dents to avoid cul­tur­ally stereo­typ­i­cal Hal­loween cos­tumes like Na­tive Amer­i­can head­pieces.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment’s civil rights of­fice fielded 53 racial ha­rass­ment com­plaints from post­sec­ondary schools in the 2007-2008 bud­get year, a num­ber sim­i­lar to pre­vi­ous years go­ing back to 2004. The next year, the num­ber soared to 91 and it has con­tin­ued to rise al­most an­nu­ally, to a high of 177 be­fore dip­ping to 146 in the bud­get year that ended Oct 1. To help schools deal with th­ese is­sues, the depart­ment con­vened stu­dents and ad­min­is­tra­tive lead­ers in Chicago for a pri­vate meet­ing in Novem­ber, as var­i­ous schools have taken steps on their own.

Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Duncan said the fast re­sponse to racial in­ci­dents, a cam­pus-wide state­ment of val­ues to help set a tone for stu­dents, and sup­port for stu­dent-led ini­tia­tives can help episodes from over­whelm­ing cam­puses. “There is no con­sti­tu­tional right to per­pet­u­ate hos­tile en­vi­ron­ments or to en­gage in threat­en­ing speech,” Duncan said. “We can do bet­ter in our re­sponses to th­ese in­ci­dents and cre­at­ing more wel­com­ing cli­mates.” — AP

COLUMBIA, Mis­souri: Jonathan But­ler (front left) ad­dresses a crowd fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment that Univer­sity of Mis­souri Sys­tem Pres­i­dent Tim Wolfe would re­sign, on Nov 9, 2015. — AP

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