Ignoring issues of racism and diversity, much like disregarding a problem, in general, is never good. The recent wave of student protests on college campuses across the U.S. has attested to this.
One explosive example of this happened on the University of Missouri’s (Missou) campus when graduate student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike in response to the rampant racism continually displayed on campus.
According to an article in the Southern Illinoisan, the N-word was used repeatedly; it was scribbled on walls and shouted to fellow students on campus. When student advocacy group Concerned Student 1950 approached administration officials, they were met with no response. The group confronted President Tim Wolfe with further concerns and were also met with no response.
Even Mizzou football players boycotted games in support of Butler until the chancellor and president would do something about the issue of racism on campus.
After a week of Butler’s hunger strike and growing criticism, University Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and Wolfe resigned.
Acting executive director of the APU Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity, Aaron Hinojosa, believes that students have the right to peacefully protest where there is no effective change.
“The chancellor’s and president’s avoidance and slow response to students’ needs and lack of awareness about racism are not only on their campus but also the structural and systemic racism that exists was a big part of the problem…If the chancellor and president would have shown empathy and sought to understand to achieve a perspective that would have allowed him to see that the lives of students of color at Mizzou were truly being effected by acts of racism, [it] would have given him some equity with students to move toward change,” Hinojosa said.
This act of racism at Missouri is not an isolated incident.
Recently, a Facebook page was created, titled “NYU White Student Union.” According to David Boroff, Dale Eisinger, and Jason Silverstein of the New York Daily News, this Facebook page was ultimately fake. However, White Union Facebook pages are spreading nationwide. At Calvin College in Michigan, a group of students wrote white power and drew a swastika in the snow.
Personally, I was furious when I first heard of these racist acts. What ever happened to a university’s aim to be an institution for higher learning? Any university students and administration members that contribute to racist acts, or ignore racist acts, contradict this aim. Instead, they cause their university to be an institution of lower learning.
Executive director of the APU Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence Dr. Richard Martinez said, “Hearing the voices and concerns from students, staff, faculty, and leadership are critical aspects of promoting change in an organization. Peaceful and respectful approaches to raising awareness are also essential to nurturing mutual respect as a foundational principle for sustainable change.”
When it comes to the Black Lives Matter protests that college campuses including Dartmouth are supporting, Martinez believes that, “We need to hear all voices in our university community. With a foundation of mutual respect, we can facilitate conversations around difficult issues. Through our conversations with the Mosaic Caucus, here at APU, we are creating an environment where we can learn from one another in a spirit of humility, in order to influence transformative change.
Junior communication studies major Lynn Yeo said, “I definitely think it is important for students to speak up about issues of diversity and racism. It is important to stand up for what you believe in. Young people should be free to speak their minds and try to make a change.”
This attitude has been something that has been incorporated into APU this year, deeming it an institution that embodies higher learning.
“I am confident that the conversations shared with our students will continue to influence our future actions. The establishment of a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), Dr. Kim Denu, was a significant step. She approaches her role and our work with the philosophy of “I See You.” For her and the rest of our team, every voice counts and each person deserves a seat at the table,” Martinez said.
He continued, “The Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence and the Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity (SCRD) report directly to the CDO. This leadership structure allows us to be more responsive and supportive to our campus community.”
Looking to the future, the issue of racism should never be ignored or denied by anyone. This never works out for anyone. College administrators need to be willing to work cooperatively with students, and the other way around.
I hope more effective ways to solving the big issue of racism will emerge. In the meantime, individuals need to fight for what they believe in and fight against what they think is wrong. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind.