First, for decades, they ignore you. Then, when things get serious, they laugh at you for being too demanding. Then, you win, and you keep winning. And the black student movement, from the University of Missouri to Yale, rolls on.
Students’ notoriously “unreasonable” demands—and there have been many of them over the past few months, from new cultural centers to the ousting of university presidents—are just the tip of a living, breathing movement. This movement is a national “we are done,” in the words of Alabama student activists, to uncountable experiences of anti-black racism in American higher education. It marks the swelling of “Black Lives Matter” into the university setting. At the same time, it cuts across generational lines. At Mizzou, students’ demands in November included “that the University of Missouri meets the…demands that were presented in 1969.”
In this post, students from four universities outline what happened in the fall and offer hints of what’s to come. This post is the new incarnation of The Nation’s youth organizing feature and is edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
We Are Done
By Amanda Bennett, University of Alabama
In the decades following the desegregation of the University of Alabama, we were told to be grateful for our presence on campus. And yet, we existed in an environment in which our professors and administrators didn’t look like us, our classes were held in buildings that glorified KKK members and Confederate generals, and institutional barriers—to campus organizations, scholarships, and alumni networks—limited opportunities for black students.
As black students, we did not have a place to gather to discuss our experiences with racism on campus. We effectively did not have an office of diversity, nor did we have a safe and efficient way to report sexual assaults and hate crimes. Black and Muslim students were forced to accept being followed at night and being harassed by racial slurs, while the students who preyed on them were rarely held accountable. It was a campus that was not yet equipped to meet the evolving needs of its student body.