By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Black students are launching change nationwide, like they did in the 1960s.
Whether it is the recently installed statue of Frederick Douglas at the University of Maryland at College Park, or Rutgers’ willingness to discuss the role that slaves and Native Americans played in developing the university: Or, Yale’s recent decision to establish a center that will focus on race, ethnicity, and social identity.
Perhaps it was inevitable. Gaining access to all-white establishments like the University of Maryland, or sitting at the front of the bus, or in a restaurant were issues that launched student protests in the 1960s. Many students of color just wanted to be able to walk through the doors of all-white establishments or get a foot in the door. Now, many students of color are complaining that daily life on predominantly white campuses often hinges and swings on white privilege, which is often oppressive, demeaning, and spiteful.
For example, consider what Colin Byrd, a University of Maryland student and Black Student Union leader, said while shouting into a bullhorn at the recent dedication ceremony for the Frederick Douglass statue. “There comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression,” Byrd said.
The 1,000 pound statue of Douglass was completed in September. It features some of his quotations on a wall, and is surrounded by flowers, benches, and accent lighting. It was officially dedicated at a ceremony on Nov. 18.
Of the student demonstrations that led to the erection of the eight-feet-tall statue in the newly constructed Frederick Douglass Square, his great-great-great-grandson Kenneth Morris Jr. told WUSA-TV news at the recent dedication ceremony, “I was just very inspired. I had to stand in solidarity with them (the students) so this is why I’m in all black today.”
Student protesters at the University of Maryland want to see other changes including pay for student athletes and freedom of speech for otherwise censored student athletes.
The students protesting also renewed the calls to rename the University of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium, a proposal the student government endorsed in a 13-2-2 vote this past April, according to the Washington Post.
The facility is currently named after Harry “Curley” Byrd, a multi-sport athlete, football coach, and university president.
A coalition of students said Byrd was a racist and a segregationist. His beliefs are contrary to the school’s mission and principles.
Meanwhile, Rutgers University recently announced plans to form a Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History.
In a Nov. 10 letter to The Daily Targum, the campus newspaper, Rutgers Chancellor Richard Edwards said, “We must acknowledge that our history also includes some facts that we have ignored for too long, such as that our campus is built on land taken from the Lenni-Lenape and that a number of our founders and early benefactors were slaveholders.”
“Given our history as a colonial college, these are facts not unique to Rutgers, but it is time that we begin to recognize the role that disadvantaged populations like African-Americans and Native Americans played in the University’s development,” Edwards said.
Another disturbing example is Harvard. Michelle Hall, a student of color, put photos of the Harvard Law School faculty in the Huffington Post. Black faculty portraits were defaced but white faculty portraits were not defaced.
“Their faces were covered with a single piece of tape, crossing them out of Harvard Law School’s legacy of legal scholarship,” Hall wrote in the Huffington Post. “The cowards who deface the portraits of Black professors, who hang nooses in front of Black dorms, who draw swastikas with human feces – want for that to be the end of the story.”
Miles away at Yale, President Peter Salovey issued a statement after students of color recently held several demonstrations on campus.
“In my 35 years on this campus, I have never been as simultaneously moved, challenged, and encouraged by our community – and all the promise it embodies – as in the past two weeks. You have given strong voice to the need for us to work toward a better, more diverse and more inclusive Yale,” Salovey said.
Here are other anticipated changes Yale may make. It will develop a center that will focus on race, ethnicity, and social identity. Senior leadership will undergo diversity training. And Yale will fund diversity training for students and make it easier for students, faculty and staff to report discrimination.
Earlier this month, Yale University announced a five-year, $50 million program aimed at increasing a diverse faculty.
Western Washington University, meanwhile, recently cancelled classes in response to online hate speech that targeted students of color, according to Inside Higher Ed.
In a statement, Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard said the threats were not “merely insulting, rude, offensive commentary that trolls and various other lowlifes seem free to spew, willy-nilly, although there has been plenty of that, too. No, this was hate speech.”
And Brown University in Providence, R. I. recently released a draft of a report that aims to tackle diversity and inclusion. The draft includes proposals for doubling underrepresented faculty by 2024-25, providing new training for public safety officers, doubling the number of underrepresented grad students, and promoting research on structural racism.
Brown President Christina H. Paxson is welcoming comments on the report and proposals for change until Dec. 4. The university has stated that it is prepared to spend $100 million over the next 10 years to implement the outlined changes.