When Black Lives Matter Demands Action, College Presidents Listen
By: Joseph Williams
In the highest-profile demonstration of its kind, last fall, black students at the University of Missouri protested what they argued was the school administration’s failure to address a toxic racial climate on campus.
Using tactics borrowed from their grandparents’ generation — sit-ins, walk-outs, and hunger strikes — the protests brought national attention, and forced Tim Wolfe, the university’s president, out of office. They also triggered similar demonstrations at colleges and universities nationwide.
Now, a new American Council on Educationsurvey indicates that top college and university officials are responding to campus unrest.
Nearly half of the more than 560 senior administrators who responded to the ACE survey gauging the racial climate on campus have seen protests on their campuses about social justice issues, including diversity and inclusion on campus. More than half of them said they’ve met with protesters more than once, and 55 percent say it’s helped elevate those issues to the top of their agendas.
At a time where affirmative action in college admissions has been repeatedly challengedin court — and fewer African Americans and Latinos who do make it to college are struggling to earn bachelor’s degrees — analysts say student activists’ push for diversity, and administrators’ willingness to listen, are positive signs.
The majority of college presidents who responded to the ACE survey have been “engaged and responsive,” Lorelle Espinosa, ACE’s assistant vice president for policy research and strategy told TakePart.
“I do think that there’s a lot of good news here as far as how presidents are making campus racial climate a priority at their institutions,” said Espinosa. “As someone that has been studying these issues a long time, I see and I believe, and many [campus presidents] know, that there’s a lot to do but there’s plenty of good news here.”
Brittany Packnett, executive director of Teach for America in St. Louis, and the co-founder of the activist group Campaign Zero, was one of the protesters on the front lines after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in neighboring Ferguson. Packnett, who helped organize volunteers to set up programs for kids whose schools were closed due to the unrest, said student activism and the Black Lives Matter movement are intimately connected.