On May 3, Caleb Jackson was shocked to receive an e-mail from the financial-aid office at American University informing him he was no longer eligible for aid.
One year ago, Jackson missed three of his final exams when he took part in demonstrations demanding accountability for the culprit of yet another racial incident on campus like those that marked nearly every year of his matriculation at AU. Last year it was bananas hanging from nooses in response to the election of the school’s first black woman student-government president. Despite the pressure of final exams, Jackson felt the overt racism and implied threats of the noose incident compelled him, and many of his fellow students, to engage in the urgent protests that immediately followed.
Indeed, American University erupted into such chaos that the administration allowed students to request extensions on final assignments, which is precisely what Jackson did. The three missed final exams resulted in three incompletes reported for those courses. What Jackson did not know was the incomplete grades jeopardized his financial aid. And even after he appealed the financial-aid ruling, he was put on academic probation.
“I didn’t know that even if it is approved, you’re on probation the following school year,” he said. According to American University’s financial-aid website, this information is included in the letter that approves an appeal.
Jackson’s situation isn’t rare. As the number of racial incidents increase at colleges and universities, more black students find themselves on the front lines of campus protests, defending their right to be there. But activism has a cost. Acts of racial bias draft black students into racial battles without warning, where they sustain evidence of battle fatigue, reporting skipping class, missing work, and sleeping less—all in service of making change at their schools.
“I’ve been really overwhelmed with everything that’s been happening with my financial aid,” Jackson said. “I find it really annoying.”
More black college students find themselves mired in protests because hate crimes are on the rise. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of reported racial incidents at colleges and universities jumped nearly 25 percent, according to data from the US Department of Education.
The Southern Poverty Law Center documented 329 incidents of racist flyers distributed on 241 different college campuses in 2017. Alt-Right groups, including Identity Evropa, Vanguard America, and The Right Stuff, spread racially divisive messages on college campuses across the country as a way to recruit members, said Lecia Brooks, who leads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s college-outreach program.