Racial discrimination protests ignite at colleges across the U.S.

“The passion that ousted the heads of the University of Missouri after protests over racial discrimination on campus is spreading to other colleges across the country, turning traditional fall semesters into a period of intense focus on racial misunderstanding and whether activism stifles free speech,” as the New York Times is reporting.

“Hundreds of students demonstrated at Ithaca College in upstate New York on Wednesday, demanding the resignation of the college president, Tom Rochon, for what they said was his lackluster response to complaints of racial insensitivity on campus, including an episode in which two white male alumni on a panel called a black alumna a ‘savage,’ after she said she had a ‘savage hunger’ to succeed.

“At Smith College, in Northampton, Mass., about 100 students demonstrated in solidarity with their counterparts in Ithaca and Missouri, while at the University of Kansas, the administration called a town hall meeting to give students and faculty a chance ‘to be heard’ before any concerns about race on campus could grow.”

(Meanwhile, “Claremont McKenna College’s dean of students resigned under pressure over racial tensions and protesters at more than 100 colleges and universities nationwide demanded the cancellation of student debt,” as the Los Angeles Times is reporting. “Dean Mary Spellman at Claremont McKenna stepped down after she sparked a campus protest and hunger strikes by two students this week over her email to a Latina student saying she would work to serve those who ‘don’t fit our CMC mold.’”)

The rest of the New York Times article is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

2 thoughts on “Racial discrimination protests ignite at colleges across the U.S.”

  1. There was a very good commentary on Huffington Post by author and social commentator Jim Wallis.


    Jim Wallis was a keynote speaker at a Sierra Business Council conference in 2008, so it kind of cool to see this commentary from someone I actually know. He is the publisher and editor of Sojourner magazine, a former professor at the University of Wisconsin and a Christian evangelical who has been a leader of the movement within the Church to re-assess its role in environmental, social justice and race relations.

    What happened in Columbia could be a very important step moving Black Lives Matter from a protest movement to a mass social change movement. It is a step that we should be celebrating.

    Earlier this year when Black Lives Matter disrupted democratic candidates at public appearances I had a brief dialogue with a few people about the potential success of BLM versus the evident failure of Occupy Wall Street to sustain their movement. Of course OWS has had a major effect in that it softened the ground for people like Bernie Sanders to talk with renewed influence about financial and banking reform as a social justice issue, and for that it should be applauded. But it failed to sustain a mass movement that was tied to specific reforms and legislative and legal changes that were necessary to achieve its goal, which was the question that Secretary Clinton asked the BLM movement when she met with them after they disrupted one of her events.

    “What do you want me to do about it?”–Hilary Clinton

    I’ll admit that this was a somewhat tense exchange, but the fact remains that Secretary Clinton’s point–that protests fails to become a reform movement if they fail to tie their objectives to specific actions, reform of specific laws, to a specific achievable strategy to change those laws, and the institutionalization of the reform–is 100% valid.

    In what I think was a rather cold way, what Secretary Clinton was saying was you want to change the system you have to change the culture, because politics is not a leading it is a lagging indicator of change; politics follows culture, culture does not follow politics.

    You want politicians to lead change you have to build the momentum to force them to lead change.

    That is why what happened at the University of Missouri is so important; it broke through the protest to make specific demands, and saw those demands realized. The leadership at the university did not take the racially charged attitude on campus seriously enough, they did not react quickly enough, and they were not serious in their response. The protest spread from a small group of committed activists to a broader set of allies (in this case the football team and coach) who share a common set of values that could help advance the agenda.

    “Democracy does not come from the government, from on high, it comes from people getting together and struggling for justice.” – Howard Zinn, Spelman College commencement address, Atlanta, 2005.

    Let’s hope that BLM and its objectives begin to get institutionalized without tragedies like the mass murder at Mother Emmanuel, and the recruitment of the unlikely ally who shared common values Governor Nikki Haley, that created the environment necessary to eliminate the confederate flag as an accepted symbol of white supremacy.

    What happened at Mizzou could be the blueprint for moving from a protest movement to a mass movement and the beginning of a new era of civil rights and citizen rights in our democracy.

    Protest movements exist outside of traditional electoral politics, and often outside the law, at least to begin with, or they fail. They have to challenge power to succeed. Protest movements are not pretty; they are the conscious and strategic disruption of law and order, with a purpose. They are led by people who are willing to risk death, as in the case of Jonathan Butler and his hunger strike, or expulsion like all of the student protesters, or an NFL contract like the Mizzou football team, and the acceptance of their colleagues like the coach.

    For protest to move to a popular mass movement it has to be an assertion of power by the people themselves. Only once they have shifted the consciousness can mass movements persuade courts, politicians and the established order to follow. To make the shift they have to trigger recognition of deeply held values that transcend traditional boundaries between interest groups.

    Protest moves to policy and achieves goals when it becomes a mass movement, and it becomes a mass movement and changes the culture, when the grievance is proved valid, when the protester demonstrates the benefit of change, when the policies to institutionalize that change are tested at the local, regional, state and national level, and attract the allies that make the ‘protest’ a mass movement.

    Protest, without strategy and achievable objectives that aggregately achieve the goal of the protest, is impotent. Protest is the beginning not the end and the protesters who do not have the end in mind are just fooling themselves.

    This is what so many of my friends fail to recognize–that grievance is just the beginning, protest is just the beginning, that ‘demands’ are just the beginning–protest without a conscious strategy to expand beyond protest to specific changes and political power to institutionalize change is the goal.

    That is why I am proud to be part of the climate movement. It is strategic, based on protest when necessary, but advancing specific and measurable changes in policy and outputs that devolve benefit to a new set of stakeholders, it is rooted in local, regional, state, national and global policy, it seeks to transcend traditional boundaries and welcome new allies, it seeks to institutionalize and enforce that change in law.

    We need a new era of civil rights in the United States. We need to tear institutional racism, our original sin, out at the root once and for all. Let’s hope Black Lives Matter can do that. This idea doesn’t threaten white America, as many of our less enlightened local pundits clearly fear (actually what they fear is losing privilege) it frees us from our original sin and is part of the redemption that we sorely need.

  2. The disintegration of the WASP society is creating more friction that I thought it would in 2015. As it turns out, we haven’t changed much when it comes to racism in America, thanks largely to the “personalization of news,” which leads to intolerance. I am hopeful that our son’s generation can make some progress. I notice a lot of the kids are more “color blind” — until their parents come around and change that.

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