Student protests have erupted across the breadth and scope of academia over the past several years. These protests have disrupted colleges and universities from Harvard to Yale, from the University of Wisconsin to California State. These protests, orchestrated by students, reflect the full range of groups from athletes to graduate students, from conservatives to progressives, and from students of color to feminists. Students are taking a knee and raising the flag, shouting from the streets and within classrooms. The issues have ranged from gun rights to freedom of speech, from hate speech to protected speech, from national to international politics, from ecology to community, and yes, from DACA to health care, crime and punishment and racial profiling.
The fact that these protests and concerns have been so diverse suggests that the academia is doing exactly what it is supposed to do – encouraging healthy and, at times, difficult debates. On the other hand, those protests and concerns that deal with various identity groups raise a different set of problems for institutions. I would argue that these reflect cyclical patterns of harassment and discrimination based on one’s race, ethnicity, nationality, political beliefs, religion, gender or sexuality. If we step back from this, and look at the recent set of events that have taken place at Miami University I believe these cyclical patterns can be identified here as well.
As many of you know, students at Miami University were once again shocked to read the headline in the Student: “Student’s Slur Sparked Storm on Social Media.” Charges, protests and, ultimately, a student forum was orchestrated where students confronted the university to address what some, at best, argue is insensitivity and, at worst, “a racist culture on campus.”
A search through the Student archives over the years demonstrates the cyclical pattern our current crisis reflects. Here are just a few brief examples:
As early as 1968, black students challenged Miami to change its’ “Whites only” image, and a black student argued, “Miami moves only when they feel us putting on the pressure.” As a result, in April 1968, President Shriver ordered the first Racial Climate study at Miami. They concluded Miami had a more subtle or covert form of racism where harassment and discrimination were less than obvious as they were reflected in indifference, marginalization and isolation. Ironically, similar conclusions are identifiable almost three decades later.
In 1998, after a series of racial assaults, vandalisms and the posting of racist flyers, students demanded change. After a series of protests, the university reluctantly did a climate survey, which concluded that our campus reflects several racial, sexualized, cultural and gendered islands where like-minded/identified students congregate. In addition, when crises occur, they tend to coincide with various identity groups that are even further marginalized. In the process, the survey documented that Miami’s culture was decidedly indifferent, insensitive, ambiguous and, particularly for students of color, produced a climate that was at best described as“chilly.”
Another task force, in 2005, concluded, “Students of color connect, for the most part, with “multicultural resources.” Women students feel they must conform to an “image,” and GLBT students remain “invisible.”
In 2010, homophobic attacks, both on and off campus, nooses in dorms and off-campus “ghetto” parties and festivals highlighted the continued and multi-pronged set of issues facing GBLT students and students of color.
Additionally, as late as 2016, a random posting of flyers surfaced which promoted racist, misogynistic and homophobic views and ideas.
All of these actions across the decades document a constancy of these incidents; it documents the constancy of the problems and concerns; and the constancy of victimization to our students. All of these actions also demonstrate a constancy of institutional responses in reaction to these events, issues, and concerns. The consistent, even cyclical patterns of these events suggests that perhaps our responses require approaches that are more deliberate, holistic and sustainable.
Cyclical patterns of harassment and discrimination based on one’s race, ethnicity, nationality, political beliefs, religion, gender or sexuality demonstrate that the problems are structural and not behavioral. Therefore, while many of our responses have produced difficult conversations, workshops, lecture series, etc., we have not come to grips with what appears to be the constancy of the patterns.
One thing that the cyclical patterns demonstrate is a “cohort” effect. This cohort effect, reflecting the reality that every three to four years we have a substantially new set of students at Miami, explains the patterning of these events. In addition, many of our efforts in the past have been in responses to specific incidents of harassment and discrimination, affecting a specific set of students. This also suggests a kind of fragmentation with respects to our responses. Thus, after an “event” we ramp up institutional resources to effectively educate, sensitize, and socialize a given cohort of students to the problems associated with various forms of bias. As effective as these strategies might be in the short term, they may have limited impact on the next wave of students.
President Crawford, in establishing the 2017 Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Diversity, provided the following charge that will guide us as we move forward:
“… We need to develop a strategic vision that encompasses the entire Miami community. We have talked about this vision, which I term inclusive excellence, but now we must articulate what it means in practical, operational terms. …We need to ask a new set of questions, engaging all voices. We need to hear from the full scope of Miami. We set the stage for this initiative through our diversity statement and our overarching commitment to diversity, through events and programs. What must we do to educate others against this bigotry and division? What lessons should be required? How can our Miami Plan help educate more students to understand racism in our university and our country? How can we best leverage our faculty expertise? If you want to engage diversity and inclusion events and programs on this campus, you have many options – but how do we reach the entire Miami community. . . .”
Join us as we move forward – for Love and Honor.
Rodney D. Coates, Chair of the 2017 Presidential Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion