When I came to UNC Charlotte my junior year of college, I noticed the obvious thing: diversity. Transferring from an HBCU (Historically Black College or University), I knew I was going to encounter more white people than I probably ever have in my young life. This wasn’t a big deal for me because non-black students and I had all one thing in common: we were students. We all chose to come to this university for different reasons but mainly to learn and to grow in our personal and professional lives.
Diversity seemed to be the biggest staple word administrators and counselors relied on once I got to UNCC. But after arriving here, I could not help but to notice just how segregated the campus was. Sure the campus is diverse, no doubt. Students from all walks of life and colors infiltrate this school, but that’s just that. There is not much mingling and bonding between the different races of students. You can see the very clear, complicated division here. The way the Student Union becomes full of Black students after a certain time of the night during the Union Takeovers, the lack of black and brown students involved in Pan-Hellenic frats and sororities, how the Stroll and Step Show competitions and the Last Day of Classes celebrations are a “black thing,” how all the Southeast Asian students seem to stick together and how almost all conversations or programs about race are packed with Black students.
The recent events taking place at the University of Missouri further proves the issue of race on Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) is still lingering in the curriculums and classrooms. Just like everywhere else in America. So, the issue is not shocking at Mizzou. The racial issue here at UNC Charlotte during Homecoming was also not shocking. Race has been something swept under the rug of white privilege and coated underneath words like “diversity” and “equality” at PWIs. To some people, there is no issue of racism at universities because it has been fixed: there is one whole department of study dedicated to African American Studies with professors (mostly white) who care about race relations. Racism and discrimination is not ever questioned on campuses like UNCC and Mizzou until something happens and administrators have to deal with it to calm down the angry students of color. The claims of oversensitivity and lies about an issue that “does not exist” from critics of the Mizzou student protestors proves the apathetic attitude towards the voices of oppressed students. Claims like those seem to suggest that the institutional and blatant racism students of color experience schools like Mizzou are not real.
That is troubling.
When students of color decide to raise their voices against a wrongdoing on an institution’s behalf, the act is automatically deemed dangerous. The act threatens the comfortability of privilege and fabrications of diversity on campus and forces undercover racists to face a problem they have been trying to avoid since the institutions first opened its doors to students of color for admission.
What I found to be most striking about the events at Mizzou were the protests led by the student football players. At least 32 Black football players refused to play or practice until the president of the school, Timothy Wolfe, resigned due to his failure in addressing discrimination. The unity and the strength these football players displayed was powerful. The tactic was also very smart. Black men make up about 60 percent of NCAA football teams. Anyone who watches college football knows that many of the NCAA football teams generate millions of dollars to the universities. The boycott to stop playing was a threat to money the football team and school could make. Because of this, the president had to resign and perhaps I am a pessimist, but I am not convinced his resignation had anything to do with his sudden care for the safety of students of color at Mizzou. His resignation, in my opinion, was yet another approach to get the students of color to quiet down.
Regardless, the unwavering strength the black students at Mizzou have displayed to the world in the last week is inspiring. They have reminded everyone that the power of students generates the type of change that will ultimately affect the entire world. This movement at Mizzou is not just a “phase” that will blow over. This movement strives to bring to light the modern displays of racism which students of color everywhere can attest to that still rears itself attempting to restrain their voices and spaces at universities across the country.
I will be honest folks and say that this conversation on race on campus is tiring. As a black female student, I am tired of hearing stories of black students and students of color being treated like the step-children of their universities. The stories of black girls and boys murdered by policeman pain me. The lack of involvement from white students in combating discrimination on and off campus is discouraging.
Where do we go from here? What can I do, what can we do differently that the ones before us have not already tried?
Students should never have to question their lives, safety and value because of their skin color at an institution that promises diversity and fairness.