Earlier this month on November 12th, 30 black student activists at Virginia Commonwealth University sat in at their president’s office in order to protest the school’s inadequate representation of the black students. The demands were simple; increase the number of black faculty and diversity efforts.
These actions are directly inspired by the series of protests that occurred at the University of Missouri. Starting out as a hunger strike, the presence of outspoken black students brought out a lot of the hidden racism in the campus as protesters were attacked by racial slurs and threatened with physical violence. White students in pick up trucks would ride on campus with more direct threats and yell at black students. The KKK even rallied in opposition. Racism turned visceral and with its out bringing nobody on that campus or in this nation could ignore it.
The national media lense was shifted from the disenfranchised streets of poor black communities dealing with police brutality onto one of the least suspecting spaces of our society; the college campus. Held to the highest standard, we often view our universities as spaces of progress, where the younger generations have been freed of their prejudices from their academic liberal arts educations. Some students, as it turns out, have a different outlook on what it means to be black on campus.
Once the lense was shifted onto the college campus, many shared their experiences of the passing aggressions that they face on a day to day basis on twitter through the hashtag, #blackoncampus, Summed up, a lot of these complaints did not look like the outright threats of lynching or physical violence that we witnessed, but feelings of isolation and small everyday interactions. Many complained of being tokenized by their communities on brochures and pamphlets, while being stopped and interrogated on campus by their own university police. Many also complained of the lack of black professors and being accused of using the race card or benefiting disproportionately off of affirmative action.
When we look at Virginia, a state that borders the northern region of the country, our situation looks different than it does in Missouri. Deeper in the south there the networks between white supremacists groups are stronger and they are able to make more of a visceral impact because of their deep roots in the communities. While physical violence towards black people happens in the north as well, there strong dynamics of campus life that uphold white supremacy through a softer means, such as the ones suggested in the tweets.
While we see more and more black students on our Virginia campuses now, the space is still white dominated. The VCU student activists identified these problems in their list of demands, when calling for a 5% increase of black faculty in the course of 2 years, an increase in tenured black professors, and cultural competency and diversity trainings for students. They want diversity not only in their student body, but in the very core curriculum that makes up their education that is most always dominated by white men in traditional academia.
These requests indicate that black students struggle to feel represented on their campuses, and are using this window of political opportunity and media sympathy for the black student population to fix this imbalance. They are identifying the various microaggressions coming from different sources (faculty, other students, and admissions) and bringing them together in order to paint the broader picture of what racism looks like in America in 2015. Its not as explicit and its not as gruesome as it was in the 1960’s, but nevertheless, these dynamics are keeping black students from excelling in their academic environment and instead creating one of tension that slowly eats at one’s self worth.