First of all, as a non-American white Latina woman, I cannot speak on the experiences of Black Americans, and therefore this article is intended to inform allies of the Black community on how we can best support the Black Lives Matter movement within our college campuses.
Some of us have recently found out posting a black square, watching Ava DuVernay’s 13thon Netflix and signing a few petitions won’t end racism. Don’t get me wrong — it’s great that we are all finally waking up to systemic racism but we shouldn’t be patting ourselves on the back for a week of social media posts after living our whole lives neglecting a system that oppresses people based on skin color.
While you should continue to inform yourself, listen to people of color to learn about their experiences, and speak up against racism — including microaggressions — every day, we need to focus on racism at the institutional level.
More importantly, we need to focus on how we perpetuate systems of oppression through the institutions we belong to.
While I’m sure we’ve all received some sort of email from our university addressing recent events and expressing their solidarity with the Black community, universities are prime examples of institutional racism. And they’re a place where you — yes, you — can start to effect real change.
Below, I’ll show you exactly how to find out what work needs to be done at your school, and how you can make changes to support racial justice.
Listen and follow the work of Black student led organizations on campus
Emphasis on listen and follow, do not impose and speak.
Most universities have Black student associations, and most will in some capacity publicize the work they are doing. So, follow their social media to be up to date on their events, support their events, listen to the demands they have for the university, and support these actions.
This is the first and foremost important step you have to take to support the Black community on campus.
As non-Black students, we cannot understand the experience of Black students, and should therefore follow their lead, and use our privilege to amplify Black voices and support their actions.
However, we should not rely on Black people to teach us about white privilege and systemic racism, we are responsible for our own knowledge. So, let’s start googling.
Look up the percentage of Black students at your university, and if you think it’s fair, before you start getting on your high horse, compare this to the countrywide percentage.
Next, Google racial breakdown of your school’s administration. Don’t be surprised if your school doesn’t even have this info listed because everyone is white.
Why is this so important? Well, top level management affects the hiring of other personnel, including admissions officers, therefore reflecting that same lack of representation in the student body.
What should you do?
- Demand the end of the legacy system. Legacies are almost always white privileged students; it is the foremost evident form of white privilege at universities in terms of the admission cycle. The University of California, for example, has already abolished the legacy system.
- Petition and write to administrators about the lack of diversity in top level management of your university, demanding more representation in positions of power.
Adopt a holistic coursework narrative
I recently saw a post asking people to count the number of Black professors they had during their time in college. I attend one of the most “progressive” universities in the world and after two years I can say I had one Black professor. How about you?
Command+T and Google the following:
- Percentage of Black teaching faculty at your university
- Number of courses focused on the narrative of Black people
Narrative is everything, and the truth is most of us have been exposed to a very one-sided Eurocentric narrative.
We can change that.
While in our younger years we may not have been in charge of our education, we are now responsible for demanding we receive a holistic learning experience. A holistic learning experience requires we listen to different narratives and that we can learn from people with different experiences.
If your school does have courses focusing on the narrative of Black people, sign up for one, preferably in your field of interest. Examples might include a class on systemic racism in healthcare if you’re following a medical track, or a survey of Black performances if you are studying theater.
If you are not so lucky, then open up change.org and start a petition asking your school to diversify its faculty and offer courses that provide a holistic approach.
But truthfully, that’s not enough — every course should take a holistic approach; what’s the use of only listening to one side of the story?
While it may be daunting by yourself, rely on your classmates to call out teachers who leave out narratives of marginalized communities. For example, if you’re in a class about climate change, then you should be learning about how climate change affects Black communities at a much higher rate that it does white communities.
Question your school’s relationship with the police
Almost every university either has its own campus police or a police presence on campus. (First of all, why? As someone who grew up in Europe, this truly baffles me and if someone can explain this to me, I’d appreciate it.)
So take it upon yourself to research the history of the relationship between police on your campus and people of color. Most police presence on campus unequally targets Black students.
So how can you help?
- Avoid calling the police if the situation doesn’t obviously call for it, especially if the situation involves a Black person — this will avoid putting Black people in danger of police brutality.
- Petition and write to school officials to defund either your campus police or any money they give to local police. This is your tuition money anyways, so you should have a say in where it goes. Instead, ask for student-led security patrolling, such as student volunteers that accompany other students getting around campus at night if they don’t feel safe walking alone.
Supporting the academic development of Black students
With new additional money from defunding your local police, the school should have more resources to do what they should be doing all along, spending it on educational resources. Most importantly, on resources that support minority groups on campus.
Why is this so important?
Switch it up this time and Yahoo this: graduation rates of different racial groups at your university.
On average, minority groups have lower graduation rates than white students. This can be due to a number of factors, such as inability to finance college, other obligations at home, or feeling ostracized in a predominantly white environment.
So petition and demand for funding towards a committee that can better access the problems leading to lower graduation rates of minority groups at your university so they can best target those issues and empower those communities.
Evaluate your student organizations/clubs
Evaluating how we directly perpetuate systemic racism is hard, but it’s so important. It’s essential we make space for Black people in all areas of our society and your chess club is no exception.
Look into the racial distribution of the members of your club and especially how that is reflected in the leadership of that organization. Even if you aren’t in a leadership position, work on implementing presentations and discussions on bias, diversity, and inclusion and advocate for the widespread use of implicit bias tests prior to recruitment cycles.
No matter what your organization does, it will benefit from more perspectives and increased representation. Highlight these perspectives on the social media accounts of your organization and actively pursue an inclusive approach to your work.
If you’re a musical group, are you performing music from Black composers and songwriters? If you’re a Model United Nations organization, are you proposing topics that address worldwide issues of systemic racism?
While I don’t know what your organization does, keep these two questions in mind:
- How can you make space for Black people?
- How can you empower Black communities?
Support Black communities beyond campus
I’m lucky enough to live next to the city of Oakland, the birthplace of the Black Panther movement, and therefore I have had no shortage of opportunities to learn and engage. While some universities are located in extremely white cities, if you can, support Black businesses around you.
Related reading: The Best Black Owned Jewelry Brands to Shop ASAP.
Need help? The app “Official Black Wall Street” will show you all the Black-owned business near you, making this task extremely easy.
It’s also important to uplift those communities that are often oppressed by institutional racism, and most likely affected by the institutional racism of your university.
Assess your skillset. Do you have experience in healthcare? Law? Business? Psychology? Having that in mind, think about how you can best empower communities of color.
If your skill set isn’t particularly useful in any of these situations, remember anyone can fundraise for a local charity that does the work of empowering communities.
These are just a few ways we can start to dismantle the systems of institutional racism that have for too long characterized our universities. It is our responsibility to be aware of our privilege and how we can use it to empower Black communities.
Remember this isn’t a trend, it’s a long-term commitment we must all take to be actively anti-racist and to dismantle systems of oppression.
What ideas do you have for college aged women who want to stand up for racial justice?
Now I want to hear from you. What statistic were you most surprised by? What else can we do as educated college women? Let us know!