What do Recent Campus Protests Mean? NYT, WSJ, CHE, and IHE Disagree

The Wall Street Journal

The Rise of the College Crybullies

The status of victim has been weaponized at campuses across the nation, but there is at least one encouraging sign.

At the Odegaard Library of the University of Washington in Seattle on Nov. 12, a rally in support of black students at the University of Missouri. PHOTO: BETTINA HANSEN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
At the Odegaard Library of the University of Washington in Seattle on Nov. 12, a rally in support of black students at the University of Missouri. PHOTO: BETTINA HANSEN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

For more than a week now, the country has been mesmerized, and appalled, by the news emanating from academia. At Yale the insanity began over Halloween costumes. Erika Christakis, associate master of a residential college at Yale, courted outrage by announcing that “free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society” and it was not her business to police Halloween costumes.

To people unindoctrinated by the sensitivity training that is de rigueur on most campuses today, these sentiments might seem unobjectionable. But to the delicate creatures at Yale’s Silliman College they were an intolerable provocation. What if students dressed as American Indians or Mexican mariachi musicians? Angry, hysterical students confronted Nicholas Christakis, Erika’s husband and the master of Silliman, screaming obscenities and demanding that he step down because he had failed to create “a place of comfort, a home” for students. The episode was captured on video and went viral.

At the University of Missouri, Jonathan Butler, the son of a wealthy railroad executive (2014 compensation: $8.4 million), went on a hunger strike to protest what he called “revolting” acts of racism at Mizzou. Details were scanty. Nevertheless, black members of the university football team threatened to strike for the rest of the season unless Tim Wolfe, Mizzou’s president, stepped down. A day or two later, he did.

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The New York Times

The Seduction of Safety, on Campus and Beyond

by Roxanne Gay

I am now always searching for safety, and I appreciate safe spaces — the ones I create for my students in a classroom, the ones I create with my writing and the ones others create, too — because there is so much unsafe space in this world.

This past week, the news media has energetically discussed student unrest at Yale and at the University of Missouri, where students are protesting administrative insensitivity or inaction in the face of troubled racial climates. At Mizzou, in particular, student activists have demanded safe space. A student journalist, Tim Tai, was denied access to the protesters’ tent city in a public area of the campus. The protesters didn’t want to be photographed or interviewed, possibly not trusting journalists to tell their story accurately.

The next day, they rightly changed their stance, opened their space to the media, and a debate on free speech and safe spaces found new life. Quickly, the student protesters were accused of not tolerating free speech in regard not only to Mr. Tai, but also to those who use racial epithets and otherwise engage in hate speech. They were accused of being weak, of being whiny for having the audacity to expect to attend college without being harassed for their blackness.

As a writer, I believe the First Amendment is sacred. The freedom of speech, however, does not guarantee freedom from consequence. You can speak your mind, but you can also be shunned. You can be criticized. You can be ignored or ridiculed. You can lose your job. The freedom of speech does not exist in a vacuum.

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The Chronicle of Higher Education

Why Embattled Leaders Should Be Stepping Up, Not Stepping Down

Mizzou president, Tim Woldfe, steps down amidst racism controversy
Mizzou president, Tim Wolfe, steps down amidst racism controversy

Ithaca College has been among the institutions roiled this fall by student protest onissues of diversity and inclusion. As has been true elsewhere, the immediate impetus for these protests has been concerns about racism and bias stemming from incidents that occurred on campus this year.

More fundamentally, though, the protests are a result of longer-term frustration and anger over persistent shortcomings in the inclusiveness of the campus culture and of the daily interactions that enable students to feel fully accepted and embraced for who they are. Inclusiveness is an important value, but especially so on a highly residential campus and in a tight-knit campus community like that of Ithaca College.

In the wake of decisions by the president of the University of Missouri system and the chancellor of its Columbia campus to step down in the face of similar protests, many people wonder if such resignations will become a trend. At Ithaca College, as well, the focus of student protest has been on me as president, not because of anything prejudicial I have done but due to a belief that the campus climate is not what it should be and that the buck stops with the president.

It is impossible to know whether the current wave of campus activism will increase leadership turnover. So much depends on institution-specific circumstances such as the extent of board support for a given president and whether there are any hidden issues in play in addition to the public issues that engender the protests.

But it is highly likely that we have entered a new era of student activism focused on inclusivity and bias.

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Inside Higher Education

What the Protests Mean

by Scott Jaschik

The protest movement that started at the University of Missouri at Columbia has outlasted the president of the University of Missouri System, who resigned on Monday. While Missouri had some unique factors, in particular a boycott started by the black members of the football team, campuses nationwide are seeing protests by students over racial tensions without the benefit of support from football teams. Some of the protests are expressions of solidarity with the black students at Missouri, but many go beyond that to talk about racial conditions on their own campuses, which many describe as poor.

The movement is showing up at large campuses and small, elite and not-so-elite institutions, campuses with strong histories of student activism and not. On some campuses the focus is on issues experienced by black students, while on others the discussion is about many minority groups. More protests are planned for this week.

kansas pic
University of Kansas minority students are demanding the resignation of student government leaders who they say haven’t done enough for all students

As the weekend ended, students who had been staging a sit-in in the library at Amherst College, with a long list of demands, agreed to leave, despite not getting their demands met. At the University of Kansas, minority students are demanding the resignation of student government leaders who they say haven’t done enough for all students, and an alumnus has started a hunger strike on campus — all on a campus that last week held a lengthy open forum on race relations (right) with the university president, who on Friday issued a statement of support for minority students.

The protests are also provoking considerable backlash — with online threats appearing at many campuses. While the threats have led to several arrests, without indications that those posting the threats actually intended to carry them out, these actions have caused fear at many campuses.

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