Ok, so several feel I am beating a dead horse. There has been this huge argument recently about, you guessed it, Missouri. The debate has ranged from questions of free speech to wondering why the president deserved to be removed. Many of these individuals don’t understand why these things matter at institutions of higher education.
So we start the list. Take some time and really think about what you are saying. Many individuals who argue against what is happening hold Martin Luther King Jr. up as a role model, an example of following the system, to bring about change. Most of those who do so fail to realize how disliked King was for his actions. They fail to recognize that several people said similar things to Dr. King (read the Letter from the Birmingham Jail if you haven’t yet). Before you use him to defend your own racist (yes, that is a racist action) please understand him and realize that stances such as yours are one of many things he was fighting against. There is a similar things in regards to the pressure and removal of the president. He was the embodiment of those beliefs, and worse. He made comments which made those students feel uncomfortable.
Let’s clarify here. I am not talking about uncomfortable as in I am going to challenge you psychologically. That is the type of thinking that college is designed to create for us. What I am talking about is the type of continued and sustained thoughts, actions, and ideas that lead students not a part of the dominant culture (read more about my use of that term here) to feel like less. These are statements made again and again that people often times don’t realize they are making, yet create a culture where students are left feeling as if they matter less, placing them at a disadvantage in the first place. For examples one and two, refer to both the president’s statements where he told students that systemic racism was a belief (note that regardless of how you feel, your personal stories and examples do not disprove an overall systemic issue. Systemic Racism is not belief but real) and his resignation speech where he did not admit any wrong on his own part but blamed everything on a lack of communication.
Ok, so why does all of this matter? What about the “White” Centers on campus? This is where time, and history, do in fact matter. Go back with me to the very first institution of higher education in the United States:
Harvard was founded in 1636 as the very first institution of higher learning in the United States. At the time, only rich White men (particularly protestant) could attend the institution. From there, we have to fast forward to 1837 when what is now known as Cheney University was founded as the first HBCU (there is a lot of debate around this topic). Even when Cheney was founded, it was not an institution of higher education. Oberlin, also in the 1830’s, was the first institution of higher education to admit Black and African-American students. They would later go back to segregating those students, but this was the first sustained effort to educate any race besides White.
For those who may need some help doing the math, Harvard was founded 379 years ago, while Black and African-Americans did not have access to Higher Education in the United States for another 201 years, approximately 178 years ago. So why does support for these students matter? Because for more than half of the history of Higher Education in the US, the systems were only for WHITE men. They were founded to serve and educate WHITE men and have not fundamentally changed when they suddenly allowed anyone else within their hallowed doors.
As was said many times around the marriage equality decision, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”