Letter to the Editor: Mizzou exposes systemic racism
Last Wednesday, I moderated a discussion hosted by Carnegie Mellon's College Democrats called "What Can We Learn from Mizzou?" The event served as the start of Carnegie Mellon’s discussion of racism on college campuses, and we hope that the discussion continues. The room was completely filled, showing students' desire to learn and have their voices heard.
In this letter, I would like to summarize and reflect on the discussion. While most dictionaries define racism as “the belief that one race is superior to another,” a more accurate definition is “a system of advantage based on race.” This system can manifest itself in many ways, including institutional racism — an organization's collective failure to provide proportional and adequate services to a group of people based on their race.
Institutional racism is particularly relevant when discussing the prevalence of racism on college campuses. At Mizzou, there were a series of racist incidents and the administration failed to respond to students' complaints. In response to the administration’s failure to act adequately, students formed the group "Concerned Student 1950" and presented the administration with a list of demands, including the resignation of the university president, Tom Wolfe. To ensure that their demands were met, students engaged in many forms of protest such as Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike and the football team’s refusal to play in a high-ticket game. Students have since succeeded in removing the university president from his position.
Inspired by Mizzou, students across the nation have been standing in solidarity and demanding changes at their own schools, including Yale University, Claremont McKenna University, and Wesleyan University. So what can we learn from Mizzou?
One: Act. Every student has the right to a learning environment in which they can feel safe and comfortable, regardless of his race. There is no way to end racism without addressing it. Two: Hit ‘em where it hurts. Brainstorm potential consequences for the administration if they don't respond to your concerns. College administrations respond to events that can hurt their reputation or funds. Give them incentive to act. Three: Make clear demands and present a clear solution. Do your homework and make sure you set goals that are specific; set a deadline.
When I received my first college acceptance letter, I nearly cried. As a young girl who grew up in the ghettos of Oakland, CA I was convinced that college was the way to escape the institutional racism that traps many African-American youth in the poverty cycle. I thought that by attending college I had broken my chains, but by being here I’ve learned there is no escape from racism in America if we don't end the remnants of institutional racism.
My initial response to the events at Mizzou was heartbreak. However, I realized that Mizzou’s national headlines were a blessing in disguise. Finally, Americans were provided with proof that racism is not over. It is not only affecting the “thugs” or “welfare queens,” to use the language of ignorance, but also those who are doing everything the conservative media says that African-American youth should do: getting a college education so that they have the means to improve their communities. We are not safe, either. Now, as college students, it is our duty to seize this moment while we have the platform to end institutional racism on college campuses.
College is a place for political action, not only in regard to racial injustice but also to all issues. Feel free to reach out to College Democrats and continue the discussion of racial justice and general political action on campus. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any question, comments, or suggestions are welcomed.