It’s fair to say that the fall semester of the 2015-16 academic year can be looked at as a rejuvenation in activism on college campuses. From the University of Missouri, the school widely accepted to have gotten the ball rolling, all the way down to Springfield College, campuses have noticeably become increasingly more vocal about racial issues.
The University of Missouri incited the uproar that got students talking. In early September, student government president Payton Head posted on Facebook about the bigotry and anti-gay sentiments prevalent around campus. This paved the way for stories of racism on campus garnering national attention.
A few of these stories included Head’s personal account of unidentified individuals shouting racial slurs at him as they drove by in a truck. There was also an account of feces being smeared into a swastika on a bathroom wall in a residence hall. Frankly, there was a somewhat lengthy list of documented insensitivity permeating the campus.
The protests started when the students found that then President Tim Wolfe was not doing anything to address these concerns. The football team threatened not to play, and one student went as far as to begin a hunger strike until Wolfe resigned. Wolfe, as well as Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned on Nov. 9.
The events at Missouri rippled across the country.
And although they did resonate across the country, the varying cultures from campus to campus does present its own unique challenge in distinguishing whether this is a nationwide movement, or collective campuses across the country standing up in the name of inclusivity and equality.
“It’s hard to question what’s going on at other campuses because we don’t really have the full scope of what they were dealing with,” Springfield College Vice President of Inclusion and Community Engagement Calvin Hill said. “From my perspective I wish there was more information we had in reference to what the students were dealing with as well as what the administrative responses were or were not.”
Hill added that this put him in an “information gathering and seeking mode” so as to look at what was going on at other schools and learning from them in order to alleviate any possible issues in lack of inclusivity or respect for underrepresented student populations.
At Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California, the dean of students resigned on Nov. 13 following similar protesting tactics in regards to racial sensitivity, one of which tactics was a hunger strike.
Similar sentiments were shared all around the country, including New England.
Brandeis College, Amherst College, Smith College and Yale University all led protests of their own.
At Yale, President Peter Salovey responded to student protests claiming that the Ivy League school was “inhospitable to students of color, and to minority women in particular,” according to the Washington Post. Salovey proposed and put into actions to create a “build a more inclusive Yale.”
In Massachusetts, hundreds of students at Brandeis University stormed into, and camped at the administration building, which houses the office of the President, and refused to leave until the interim President, Lisa M. Lynch, addressed student demands on diversity, most notably the need to hire more black faculty and staff.
In Western Massachusetts, 300 to 500 students and Black Lives Matter activists occupied the student center for 12 hours, standing in solidarity with the protests occurring at the University of Missouri. At Smith, however, they did turn away one group: journalists that were not sympathetic to their cause.
At Amherst College, students gathered over multiple days to discuss their lived experiences with racism and prejudice both at and outside of Amherst.
Recently on the Amherst campus, the “Lord Jeffrey” or “Lord Jeff” mascot that was adopted after Lord Jeffrey Amherst was removed amid outspoken protest to the name. Amherst, a general for the British in the French and Indian War and whom the town is named after, symbolizes to many the oppression of Native Americans in the United States.
Even on the very campus of Springfield College, an institution not generally known for activism, students have been outspoken about diversity, or lack thereof, on campus.
Student Elijah Ryan started the conversation when he created and carried around campus a sign stating, “Springfield College does not care about black people.” He discussed grievances with students and a plan he envisioned for the campus to become more inclusive and accepting of students from different racial background.
“Elijah really indirectly stirred the ability for us on campus to have a conversation. “Elijah really wasn’t speaking about Black Lives Matter from the standpoint of what was going on in Missouri or other campuses of higher education,” Hill said. He was really kind of focusing on Springfield College and raising the question as to, ‘Are we treating people that are black and/or different with the same level of respect and dignity that perhaps our other majority is treated.”
Hill also noted that another positive effect of movements made across the country is that it’s resulted in campuses that have not formerly had chief diversity officers to begin employing them.
“If you go and look at The Chronicle, you’ll see a number of institutions that have said, ‘you know what, this is something that we desperately want to have in place,’” Hill said. “Our campuses are beginning to acknowledge a lot of these shifts and changes and adapt.”
With Black History month now underway and activism during the fall as a precursor, it is not beyond the realm of imagination to believe that the coming month, and semester for that matter, will feature more steps forward in the rejuvenation of racial activism and inclusion on campus.