This post was co-authored by Richard Okello and Louis B. Ward.
The recent racially charged incidents at the University of Missouri and Yale University, as well as the perceived lack of response from administrators, has led to unrest on more than 20 college campuses across the country, some resulting in the resignation of senior level officials. What role professionals of color on campus should play is one of complexity and was the focal point of our Year of the Mockingjay post, which was published at the top of the year. While the answer to that question has not gotten easier, the choice to remain silent has become more difficult. The issues raised by Concerned Student 1950 are not new, but old business that remains unfinished, continuing to be tabled by university administrations. Black college students have been engaged in resistance work since gaining entry into predominantly white institutions, which were not designed with them in mind.
“The same spaces not designed for advocacy of Black students are similarly ill-designed for Black employees. What do we do?” asks Amma Marfo. The response should mirror that of days past: show up and be seen.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who spends himself in a worthy cause”
Professional safety has always been a consideration when deciding to step into the arena. To sign a petition of support, attend a solidarity rally, or provide a space for students to process together arguably could place you in the “radical” educator category. Or better yet, it could place you more in alignment with the mission of your institution. Oftentimes, only the former is considered and it suggests that one’s livelihood is worth more than the lives of the students who are the “why” behind the work we do. Black students show up daily in the arena – on campus, bravely facing the many assaults on their ways of being. Is the expectation really that they have to navigate these experiences on their own?
Many of us would not have made it to graduation had it not been for a faculty or staff member who intervened, affirmed, and stood with us. We believe this level of advocacy should not have to be sought out, but readily available. After all, consider that they are too fighting for our right to be present on campus by demanding an increase of faculty and staff of color. Also, it should be steadfast in moments of controversy, not only in the convenient moments. And when it appears that the walls of the Coliseum are crumbling around them, it is we who must remind our students that they matter. It is not a burden that we asked for, but one that we must bear. However, any change as it relates to the campus experience has to begin with the student voice.
Capital in Protest
Professor Brittney Cooper often reminds her students that they and not faculty “move campuses”. What we have witnessed at the University of Missouri highlights the possibilities that can come to pass when students collectively assert their agency. As professionals and advisers, three important questions to ask students during the organizing phase to ensure they have a coherent and cogent message are: What is it that you’re protesting? What are your asks? What are you willing to do if your asks are not met? Tired of an unresponsive administration to their requests, Concerned Student 1950, invoking the same spirit that guided Brittany “Bree” Newsome to scale a pole to remove the confederate flag from the South Carolina state capital earlier this year, boycotted MU services, protested President Tim Wolfe during the homecoming parade, and supported Jonathan Butler, a student who began a hunger strike calling for the president’s resignation. These efforts succeeded in inspiring the Black members of the Mizzou football team to also take a stand – declaring they would not play until the president resigned. As Gus T. Ridgel, one of the original nine Black students admitted to the university in 1950 said, “Anything that affects the bottom line is going to get the attention of leaders.” The subsequent resignation of the president and campus chancellor speaks boldly to that ideal.
We Who Believe
The Concerned Student 2015 is not much different from their 1950 counterpart as similar types of racial hostility still exist, as evidenced by the current unrest on college campuses. The difference lies in the resources and means available to them to bring about the change sought. No single entity alone is responsible for this task, for history illustrates the possibilities of an awakened and unified collective. We submit that our involvement as Concerned #SAPros is paramount to the paradigmatic shift needed to make our campus cultures more inclusive. It is our integrity, not our positions that is at risk. The Concerned #SAPro, like Hemingway simply wishes “to last and get [their] work done,” but until our institutions can stand in proud contrast to the Mizzous and Yales, “we who believe in freedom cannot rest”.
See Richard’s bio below this post.
Louis B. Ward is an Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Louis is responsible for maintaining a safe and inclusive campus environment by upholding the Code of Student Conduct which emphasizes principles of restorative justice. He received a Master of Education degree in College Student Affairs from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Rowan University. Connect with Louis on LinkedIn or @iHope_inc
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