How to discuss racism in higher education institutions

By Emma Campbell

Elm Staff Writer

Students across the country are organizing peaceful protests, such as walk-outs and lock-ins, to protest racial discrimination in their predominantly white high schools, the New York Times reports.

The protests are in response to the lack of inclusivity for nonwhite students in the American education system.

Student protestors wish institutions would implicate racial bias training for school staffers, classes teaching nonwhite cultures, and stricter punishment for students who use racial slurs.

The initial protest stems from outrage over a social media post. Three white girls enrolled in Owatonna High School, in Owatonna, Minnesota, posted a selfie on Snapchat paired with an egregious racial slur.

The girl told her account to the New York Times. She explained that one of the other girls pictured had been singing along to an offensive song lyric and used the slur for “the first time.”

The girls posted the photo to “commemorate the occasion.”

Racist behavior such as this is alarmingly common amongst white students in America.

Racial discrimination is not a problem faced only by American high schools. Historically white colleges and universities should hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to preventing racism within their student populations.

Even institutions which deem themselves to be racially inclusive could be more progressive, and Washington College is no exception.

Senior Calisa Gayle, a member of the WC Black Student Union and former SGA Secretary of Diversity, believes WC administration should be doing more to support minority students.

“Although the college has recently attempted to tackle/approach the issue of diversity on campus, there needs to be a lot more done,” Gayle said.

In a country where our president is a man who fears immigrants and is known to use the rhetoric of a proud white supremacist, it is no wonder these students continue to use racial slurs without thinking of the hateful histories behind them.

After seeing the Snapchat post, black students at Owatonna High were hurt, angry, and fed up.

“They’re so quick to address situations about vaping, skipping school and everything,” said Eman, a 15-year-old Somali-American sophomore, to the New York Times, when referring to school officials. “But when it comes to racism, they never want to address it.”

Eman and the fellow members of her club, Students of Color Matter, took charge, of news media outreach. The sleep-in that they organized in was prompted by the racist slur posted by the girls from Minnesota.

“There needs to be a standard across private schools for students of color and the history they are taught,” said private school senior Chassidy Titley, in a New York Times article later published in September.

According to Titley, private schools should especially be progressive.

Titley’s school, Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx, New York, was surrounded by news trucks from outlets that caught wind of the initiative taken by Students of Color Matter.

The sleep-in was ultimately successful, as the Fieldston principal agreed to the demands of Titley and her peers. Fieldston school officials plan to introduce mandatory racial-bias training programs for staff members and classes about nonwhite cultures.

However, racism cannot be alleviated if it is not first identified and discussed. If school officials continue to deny the racism occurring within the walls of their institutions, it is the job of students to confront it.

“We need more faculty of color, more diverse speakers in addition to other things. I think the black cultural center should be expanded to more than a room to incoming minorities. As diversity increases on our campus, so should our resources for diversity issues,” Gayle said.

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