The protests at Missouri won’t be the last.
The most striking thing about the racist incidents that forced the University of Missouri’s president and chancellor from office isn’t how unbelievable they are, but how banal. They could happen on any campus anywhere. They probably are. And now colleges are on notice: A timid response is unacceptable.
The protests at Missouri will not be the last.
The resignations of Missouri president Tim Wolfe and chancellor R. Bowen Loftin might quell the immediate crisis in Columbia, as the leaders hoped. But this isn’t just about one university’s tough semester. Over the past year, Americans have paid more attention to the role racism continues to play in everyday life, from the lingering symbols of the Confederacy to disparities in the criminal justice system.
Now that scrutiny has come around to universities. And while college leaders like to think of their institutions as progressive places, colleges, like other venerable American institutions, have both a past and a present laced with racism. For the first time since the late 1960s, students are forcing them to grapple seriously with it.
Historical racism at universities is getting more scrutiny
When black students took over administration buildings and held sit-ins at colleges in the late 1960s, they left change behind them: black studies majors, promises of increased student and faculty diversity, new financial aid programs.
Today’s protestors are picking up those half-finished fights and demanding universities return to that era’s unfulfilled promises. Administrators, the students argue, don’t understand and aren’t helping with the challenges and everyday slights that students of color face on campuses that were often originally built to keep them out.
Some of the wounds the students want addressed are old ones. After the Charleston shootings, the persistence of monuments and memorials to the Confederacy and defenders of slavery on college campuses drew public attention. The nation’s most prestigious universities were built with slave trade money and in some cases slave labor — a history that many universities, including those in the Ivy League, weren’t willing to explore until the 21st century.
The University of Texas moved its statue of Jefferson Davis. Bowdoin College, in Maine, got rid of its Jefferson Davis Award. Yale University is still trying to decide whether it should rename Calhoun College, named after the virulent defender of slavery and Southern secession.
COLUMBIA, Mo. — The president of the Columbia, Missouri branch of the NAACP has received a threatening letter amid protests that have gripped the University of Missouri (Mizzou), whose President Tim Wolfe resigned this week after an outcry from black students accusing him and other school officials of long ignoring racial slurs and bias on campus.
Columbia NAACP President Mary Ratliff — a stalwart of the national campaign for civil rights — received a letter Saturday threatening her and President Barack Obama, in what rights leaders say is a reminder that race issues in this urban hub are not confined to Mizzou.
“Die all you dirty devil black n****rs from hell,” said the letter, which was seen by Al Jazeera. It was addressed directly to Ratliff and was postmarked on Nov. 3 in Carol Stream, Illinois.
The Columbia Police Department did not immediately respond to an interview request. Ratliff said that police called her on Monday and said the FBI was investigating the case.
Hate mail at the NAACP is not uncommon, Ratliff said, particularly whenever the town’s black community — about 13 percent of its population of about 115,000, according to July 2014 Census statistics — engages in activism. The local NAACP received hate mail last year when local and federal authorities decided not to file charges against Dustin Deacon, a white man, over the death of Brandon Coleman, a 25-year-old black man.
(CNN)Several University of Missouri organizations, including the football team and the student association, saw their demands met Monday when university system President Tim Wolfe announced he was stepping down amid a controversy over race relations at the school’s main campus.
Saying he takes “full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred,” he asked that the university community listen to each other’s problems and “stop intimidating each other.”
“This is not — I repeat, not — the way change should come about. Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation,” he said. “Use my resignation to heal and start talking again.”
His decision, he said, “came out of love, not hate,” and he urged the university to “focus on what we can change” in the future, not what’s happened in the past.
His decision came after black football players at the University of Missouri — with their coach’s support — threatened not to practice or play again until graduate student Jonathan Butler ended his hunger strike. Butler, who was protesting the state of race relations on the main campus and had demanded Wolfe’s removal, tweeted Monday morning, “My body is tired but my heart is strong. This fight for justice is necessary.”
He tweeted after Wolfe’s news conference that he had ended his hunger strike and said, “More change is to come!! #TheStruggleContinues.”
Yale University has been plunged into campus-wide debate and protest over issues of racial sensitivity and free speech so tense it’s turning into a national news story, and it all began with two emails about Halloween costumes.
On October 28, a university committee on intercultural affairs sent a campus-wide email urging students to reconsider Halloween costumes that might be racially insensitive. In response a few days later, a lecturer in early childhood development sent an email to the few hundred students in her residential college questioning whether the first email had been necessary and worrying that universities had become “places of censure and prohibition.”
Within a week’s time, the two emails had led to protests, dramatic confrontations between students and faculty members, and a statement from the university’s president that he was “deeply troubled” by students’ concerns.
The dispute that started it all might seem trivial. But the uproar is tapping into deeper issues of racism and free speech at the Ivy League university, issues similar to those faced by many American colleges that have come to the forefront this year.
Here’s what happened and why it’s become such a controversy at Yale and nationally.
How dueling e-mails about Halloween costumes led to protests at Yale
Every year, without fail, some college students somewhere take Halloween as an opportunity to wear something breathtakingly offensive, including students at Yalewho wore blackface in 2007. So, this year, Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent an email urging students to consider whether their “funny” costumes might not be so funny:
Halloween is also unfortunately a time when the normal thoughtfulness and sensitivity of most Yale students can sometimes be forgotten and some poor decisions can be made including wearing feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing blackface or redface. These same issues and examples of cultural appropriation and/or misrepresentation are increasingly surfacing with representations of Asians and Latinos.
Such emails are becoming an annual ritual on some campuses. The University of Colorado, the University of Minnesota, and Ohio University all urged their students to wear culturally sensitive costumes in 2013. One of the administrators who signed the Yale email, Burgwell Howard, sent an almost identical note to Northwestern students in 2010, the year after a blackface scandal at that university.
Erika Christakis, a lecturer at Yale in early childhood education, objected to all this. She sent an email to the few hundred students in Sillman College, one of Yale’s 12 residential colleges, saying she applauded the goal but questioned whether the e-mail was really necessary.
“I don’t, actually, trust myself to foist my Halloweenish standards and motives on others,” she wrote, adding:
I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.
She also passed along a message from her husband Nicholas Christakis, a Yale professor of psychology and Sillman College’s master, saying that, rather than having the university tell students what to wear and not wear, students should deal with it themselves.
Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.
The email infuriated a number of students who saw it as downplaying important racial sensitivity issues. More than 740 Yale students signed an open lettercriticizing Christakis’ email for minimizing the concerns of students of color. On Thursday, some were reportedly drafting a letter calling for both Christakises to resign as masters of Sillman College.
Nicholas Christakis apologized Friday, though saying he thought his wife’s email was well-intended: “We understand that it was hurtful to you, and we are truly sorry,” he wrote in an email to Sillman students, according to the Yale Daily News. “We understand that many students feel voiceless in diverse ways and we want you to know that we hear you and we will support you.”
The justices seem appalled by a Georgia death penalty case.
Every so often, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor reminds us that she isn’t quite the same as her colleagues when it comes to background and experiences. Sometimes it happens on Sesame Street. But—with increasing frequency—it can happen from the bench itself. Monday is one of those days.
The case is Foster v. Chatman, a dispute about how an all-white jury was seated in the capital murder trial of a young black man in Georgia. The year was 1987. The Supreme Court had only just decided, in a 1986 case called Batson v. Kentucky, that so-called peremptory challenges, which let prosecutors exclude a juror for no stated reason, could not be used in an attempt at “purposeful racial discrimination to bar African Americans from juries.” (Peremptory challenges stand in contrast to “for cause” challenges, where lawyers must explain to a judge why they are excluding a juror.) Of course, given the opportunity after the fact to proffer “a neutral explanation” for why they struck any one juror, most prosecutors—indeed most high-functioning middle-schoolers—can usually muster a reason that sounds reasonable and race-neutral. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall worried about the potential toothlessness of the ruling even as he signed onto the Batson ruling.
Timothy Tyrone Foster, a black 18-year-old, was charged in connection with the brutal slaying of Queen Madge White, a 79-year-old white woman. In seating Foster’s jury, the two prosecutors managed to strike all four prospective black jurors. Later, at a hearing to determine if they had violated the Batson rule, prosecutors justified striking each of these jurors by saying that, for instance, the candidates failed to make eye contact, or looked bored, or had a son who was close in age to the defendant, or was a social worker. White jurors who shared many of those qualities were not excluded.
Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett (D) waved a Confederate flag before the start of Ole Miss-Kentucky football game in 1962 in Jackson. (AP Photo/Jim Bourdier)
The University of Mississippi, founded in 1848 in Oxford, is a school steeped in Southern traditions — some of them racist. When the South went to war, much of Ole Miss’s student body joined the Confederate cause in a fabled company known as the University Greys. When the school’s first black student was admitted in 1962, riots broke out. The campus is awash in tributes to the rebels — a Confederate Drive, a Confederate cemetery, a Confederate memorial and, until 2010, a mascot called “Colonel Reb.” It is, after all, the University of Mississippi.
But Tuesday night in a dramatic vote, Ole Miss student legislators moved to distance themselves from their state’s past and present. The school’s student senate approved a resolution asking the university to stop flying the Mississippi state flag, which includes a Confederate design, on campus grounds. And, though the resolution is non-binding, it puts a question to university officials much of the country has struggled with after a white supremacist allegedly killed nine churchgoers in Columbia, S.C., last summer: Is it still okay to embrace the stars and bars?
“I think it shows that we as a student body recognize that these symbols of white supremacy have no place on our campus,” sophomore and student senator Allen Coon, a 20-year-old major in public policy and African American studies who introduced the resolution, told The Washington Post in a telephone interview. “They affect people that are marginalized. They make students feel excluded on their own campus and they promote ideals of hate and racial oppression.”
Liberal champion Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Sunday delivered a stirring defense of Black Lives Matter, characterizing it as a modern and necessary civil rights movement.
The full-throated defense of the movement contrasted with comments from other national politicians, whose remarks on Black Lives Matter have ranged from cautiousto missing the point — like when Martin O’Malley said that “all lives matter.”
One of the most powerful moments in the speech came when Warren criticized opponents of Black Lives Matter, who say the movement to end racial disparities in the criminal justice system is inciting violence. “Watch them march through the streets, ‘hands up don’t shoot’ — not to incite a riot, but to fight for their lives,” she said at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute. “To fight for their lives.”
Warren: It goes even deeper than criminal justice disparities
Fifty years after John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke out, violence against African Americans has not disappeared. And what about voting rights? Two years ago, five conservative justices on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, opening the floodgates ever wider for measures designed to suppress minority voting. Today, the specific tools of oppression have changed — voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and mass disfranchisement through a criminal justice system that disproportionately incarcerates black citizens. The tools have changed, but black voters are still deliberately cut out of the political process. …
Today, 90 percent of Americans see no real wage growth. For African-Americans, who were so far behind earlier in the 20th century, this means that since the 1980s they have been hit particularly hard. In January of this year, African-American unemployment was 10.3 percent — more than twice the rate of white unemployment. And, after beginning to make progress during the civil rights era to close the wealth gap between black and white families, in the 1980s the wealth gap exploded, so that from 1984 to 2009, the wealth gap between black and white families tripled.
When Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., last August, his death set off riots and violence — and posed deep questions about race relations in America. The Ferguson Commission, appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, was tasked with finding some answers.
The commission set out to examine racial and economic gaps through the St. Louis region, and come up with policy recommendations. In their final report, the commission provides an unvarnished look at how a racially divided St. Louis underserves the African-American community.
The report provides a host of recommendations to transform how the region polices and educates itself – and its most vulnerable citizens. And in many cases, the suggestions would require the backing of a state legislature that may well balk.
In all of this, Starsky Wilson, the co-chairman of the commission, knows he’s venturing into familiar territory.
A Long History Of Failed ‘Riot Commissions’
During the commission’s final meeting last week, Wilson, a St. Louis religious leader, talked about the work of political scientist Lindsey Lupo, who penned a book examining nearly one hundred years of “riot commissions” set up after American rebellion and unrest.
Many of these commissions failed, Lupo argued, because they failed to tackle latent racial tensions and systemic discrimination.
But Wilson and his fellow commission members are taking another path. Wilson looked to places like Cincinnati where residents dealt head-on with their community’s inequities — not just settling for “accommodation and quiet.” And the Commission’s final report, set to be publicly released today, pulls no punches about the underlying causes behind last year’s unrest.
“We have not moved beyond race,” the final report states.
Racist groups have been quick to latch on to murders of young white women by black and Hispanic men in recent years, and Wednesday’s killing of Alison Parker and her colleague Adam Ward is no exception, becoming a major point of discussion in online communities devoted to race hate.
Amid criticism on those websites over a media focus on gun control and (to a lesser extent) mental health in coverage of the killings, there is a chorus of racially charged sentiment demanding attention and sympathy from policymakers, especially the president.
The chatroom run by moderators of the race hate forum Coontown (formerly a hub for racist users at Reddit, where it was banned, now a fixture at Reddit competitor Voat under a different name) featured a link to the livestream of the grieving WDBJ7 newsroom where Parker and Ward worked on Wednesday and Thursday.
Immigration policy, a pet issue for conservatives and a much more important one for white-rights groups, has become central to the current election and is a major feature of these online discussions. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump’s aggressive comments on the issue have given him a leg up with racist groups, earning him even the dubious endorsement of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
“There have been a whole series of these kinds of crimes that are picked up by white supremacists and converted into racial hate crimes,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The claims are complete and utter hogwash – yesterday you could at least pick out something – there was a tiny hint of racial motivation. But in other cases, there was nothing.”
The grieving parents of Kathryn Steinle, a young white woman who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco, were regularly promoted by conservative commentators as they demanded a phone call from Barack Obama apologizing for the killing.
By contrast, Parker’s father’s call for stricter gun control laws on CNN and Fox News Thursday morning has been dismissed by many in those circles. Commentators and Republican presidential candidates took to new media and old to quell calls for harsher firearms regulation: “It’s not about the guns. It’s about mental instability,” said Trump. Conservative pundit Dana Loesch said that the killings weren’t indicative of broader trends.
Instead, commentators and commenters – including syndicated talkshow host Michael Savage – have said for months that any violent crimes committed by black people indicate that the America’s problem with racial violence is black-on-white and not the other way around.
After the killings of Parker and Ward and the release of parts of gunman Vester Flanagan’s manifesto, in which he mentioned Charleston church killer Dylann Roof’s desire to spark a race war, racists were on high alert. One non-incident in Mississippi early on Thursday afternoon nearly started a panic in the Coontown chatroom, with one poster asking: “Lots of shooters race war now?”
A number of websites keep running tallies of black-on-white violent crimes, but of particular interest to them are incidents in which the perpetrator appears to be a black man (or men) and the victim is female and white, especially when there has been focus on violence against black people in the area.
A five-year-old Charleston girl named Allison Griffor killed during a suspected home invasion in 2011 became a rallying point for racist bloggers after Roof killed nine people in a church in that town earlier this year.
The sense of white culture under attack is deep-seated enough that conservative outlet Breitbart’s headline on the Parker/Ward murders read simply: “Black, Gay Reporter Murders Straight, White Journalists – Media Blame the Gun,” and wrote: “Had a white straight man killed a black gay man, released first-person tape of the shooting, and then unleashed a manifesto about being victimized by affirmative action and anti-religious bigotry from homosexuals, the media would never stop covering the story.”
Potok said that the rhetoric around these crimes has become more vitriolic since Dylann Roof’s killing spree. “Charleston really did ignite a kind of ideological battle,” Potok said. “It wasn’t just horror at the murders of these nine people; the attack on the Confederate battle flag made these people cry and moan and describe themselves as the victims of cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing.”