The social norms of today’s society has soaked up the history of racism that preceded us. Prejudice has permeated into social tendencies which has created a very racially averse environment. As a whole, overt and explicit bigotry is no longer acceptable but still occurs on a surprisingly regular basis. And its so called “color-blind” relative, which is the belief that racism is no longer prevalent and ignores disadvantages of the non-white population, is the obstacle impeding social progress. As this is a huge, societal-wide issue, I would like to spotlight this matter on our own campus specifically. Being that the black student population at UNR is extremely underrepresented in all aspects, specifically in student population (3.5%) and faculty representation (2.6%) (collegefactual)1, this new for of racism has been allowed to thrive with very little resistance. As this is a complex issue, I feel attempting to resolve such affairs on a much smaller scale is vital to finding actual long term solutions. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by easing these tensions, but to start, we must first acknowledge those tensions are there.
“I can recall four racial incidents I’ve experienced on this campus. My worst [racial incident] on campus was during my freshmen year when I was literally just walking on the street to Manzanita Lake with a couple of friends who were of color also, and an SUV pulled up and the white people in it yelled, ‘we burn niggers in Reno’.” — Feaven Tewolde, sophomore.
“I can recall a few racial incidents on this campus. My worst [racial incident] was probably when I was just standing in line for the G-Eazy concert (the homecoming concert of the 2014–2015 school year), and this guy behind me [white] said, ‘oh she smells like cocoa butter and weave. She stink,’ to his friend and when I turned around they were looking directly at me.” — Saba Shumie, junior.
“I don’t think I can count how many racial incidents I’ve had. I can remember at least seven direct ones. My worst [racial incident] was during my freshmen year here at this university. It occurred in a classroom for leadership training, and someone in the classroom [white] tried to convince me it’s okay for him to call me a ‘nigger’ in front of other students. (The student was asked to leave the voluntary, free class and received no further punishment.)” — Betel Gebremedhin, sophomore.
These quotes are all from students that attend our University of Nevada, Reno, and show a disturbing amount of intolerance. These aren’t incidents one might hear everyday, but situations like this occur on a much more regular basis at institutions of higher education than people understand. Black female students of Yale University, the Ivy League institution, were denied entry to a Halloween frat party (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education).2 The guard at the door for the party expressed, “We’re only looking for white girls.” Also, a more unambiguous display of racism occurred at the University of Mississippi. Three students of the school vandalized the James Meredith Statue, representing the first black student to be admitted into the U of M, by hanging a noose around its neck and placing a confederate flag over the symbolic statue’s head (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education).3 Another episode of explicit racism was a video of a bus full of University of Oklahoma students chanting, “You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me. There will never be a nigger at SAE.” (Journal of Blacks in Higher Education)4
Some might argue that these are just isolated events of campus’ that have their own isolated problems and isn’t an indication of a deeper social issue. However, there have been 146 reported racial harassments in institutions of higher learning in the fiscal year of 2015 alone (U.S. Dept. of Education). While this might be a surprisingly high or low amount depending on personal interpretation and experience, research shows only 13% of racial incidents are reported (Diversity Learning Environment survey)5, which means there has been an estimated 1,123 racial incidents in the past year alone.
Color-blindness comes into play with hugely negative impacts when trying to address and rectify these longstanding problems. Refusing to acknowledge the issues that plague our campus causes neglect and delay of addressing issues of racism, resulting in little to no progress. “We have seen no upward or downward trend over the past quarter-century,” stated Robert Bruce Slater, the managing editor of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE), a database that has been recording every reported racial incident for almost 25 years now (CNN).6 Christopher Doob, the author of, Social Inequality and Social Stratification in US Society, conveyed in his book his belief that white people believe they live in a world in which, “racial privilege no longer exists, but their behavior supports racialized structures and practices.” Leslie G. Carr, another writer that discusses color-blindness in the book she published, Color-Blind Racism, explained how she saw color-blindness as a culture that undermined the legal and political infrastructure that integration and affirmative action was based on (Color-Blind Racism).7
There is no perfect solution to fixing this problem due to its underlying cause being the society we live in, but there is research studying the disparities in racial relations between several universities and what the causes of these disparities are. “Students experience more incidents of stereotyping and discrimination in low-diversity environments, and it doesn’t completely disappear in high-diversity environments, though it occurs at a significantly lower rate,” the director of the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA, Sylvia Hurtado said.8 The HERI is also home of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP), which conducted the Diversity Learning Environment survey, what Hurtado based her statement on. The survey showed students of universities with low-diversity environments report accounts of discrimination and stereotyping at a considerably higher rate in comparison to students of more diverse schools which reported those incidents at a significantly lower rate, proving to be more hospitable racial climates.9 The importance of a healthy and hospitable racial climate at institutions of higher learning isn’t being respected as much as it should. Black students in these environments do not feel safe. This has many negative impacts on minority students, as well as the majority. Every student deserves to feel safe in their universities, and lack of that feeling of secureness is a hindrance to the educational success of this marginalized population and denies these students the right to an education free from discrimination. Also, lack of diversity hinders the progress of cultural awareness and racial understanding for the white students of these institutions.10
Solving the problem of racism, which is a much more philosophical and harder to approach issue, is out of UNR’s hands. However, reducing prejudice on our campus is well within the reach of our University. Creating a more inclusive and diverse environment in regards to black students would have a direct positive correlation in improving the racial climate of the school. This would require an increase in recruitment of black students and faculty members to better represent the population, and create a more hospitable and culturally aware environment. Also, Slater, managing editor of the JHBE, said in an interview that he believes, “If students know they are going to be expelled, suspended or have their financial aid cut if they participate in racist behavior, it is likely students would think twice before acting in an offensive manner.”11 Creating a strict no-tolerance policy against racial offenses and treating these incidents as the serious crimes against socioeconomic progress they are, would further promote the sense of security among the minority population of the campus, and show the university is making strides to constructing a more inclusive environment for students of all ethnicities and cultures.
1.“University of Nevada — Reno Diversity.” College Factual. N.p., 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
2. “Women Claim They Were Excluded From a Yale Party Due to the Color of Their Skin.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education RSS. N.p., 06 Nov. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
3. “Ole Miss Offers $25,000 Reward for Information on Who Vandalized James Meredith Statue.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education RSS. N.p., 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
4. “Video Shows University of Oklahoma Students Singing Racist Song.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education RSS. N.p., 09 Mar. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
5. 2012, June. The Climate for Underrepresented Groups and Diversity on Campus (n.d.): n. pag. Web.<http://heri.ucla.edu/briefs/urmbriefreport.pdf>
6. “Do U.S. Colleges Have a Race Problem? — CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015. <http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/10/us/racism-college-campuses-protests-missouri/#>.
7. “Leslie G. Carr.” Amazon.com: : Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.
8. Prisco, Alana. “Underrepresented Students Experience More Racial Discrimination at Low-diversity Institutions, According to Study.” Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA Home of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (n.d.): n. pag. Web. <http://heri.ucla.edu/briefs/urmbriefpressrelease.pdf>.
9. 2012, June. The Climate for Underrepresented Groups and Diversity on Campus (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
10. Alexander Astin, “Diversity and Multiculturalism on the Campus: How are Students Affected?,”Change (March/April 1993)
11. “Do U.S. Colleges Have a Race Problem? — CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.