In the 1970s Gil Scott-Herron decreed that the revolution will not be televised; however, students in 2015 have taken up a revolutionary insurgence vis-a-vis multiple forms of “social” media. In unison they have declared a revolutionary war on racism, sexism, homophobism, poverty and other humanistic assaults. For university administrators, myself included, this implies that we better keep the pace with our twitter loving, instagramming, vining, kicking, facebooking, yik yaking, selfie taking, snap chatting, younger human beings sitting smack dab in the middle of our very own classrooms. While decades ago we marched, our young folks are moving more than a million strong at the tap of a key on a cell phone. Within the nano seconds it takes to press send, like Fannie Lou Hamer, they are professing their dissatisfaction to millions. They, too, are sick and tired of being sick and tired.
What does it all mean? Well, quite frankly, it means that many of us—I will speak for myself as a faculty member and an administrator—need to get our stuff in order—en punto. “Immediately” means that students want administrators—and us older human beings in general—to fix “stuff” that has been left underdone for decades, and they have no interest in “all deliberate speed—again”!
The recent protests have similar demands—to those student demands from the early 60s. Students are troubled by the slow movement to create more inclusive climates and environments. They want institutions of higher education to become more sensitive to the needs of students of color. They want organizations to make significant changes in the hiring of faculty of color and in the recruiting and retaining of students of color. They want institutions to hold accountable those who target students of color [verbal, physical and psychological assaults]. They also ask for the removal of culturally offensive figures and suggest that it makes sense that in 2015 everyone should already be culturally competent [It is hard to believe that we still need classes to teach folks how to be culturally competent. However, if the demands have been ignored for 60 years—is this really a surprise? How about, as a start, we learn and live among each other instead of in isolated and homogenous enclaves—suburban bliss?]. Students want us to act quickly when racially charged instances occur and to assure students that there are spaces and places for cultural exchange, learning and comfort.
Ironically or paradoxically, while the rhetoric suggests that the change required is so fast paced, we should all keep in mind that the students are referencing an old “to do” list. It’s just that organizations have filed the list in bin 13 since the 1960s. In other words, the notion of “immediate change” seems ludicrous—given similar requests that have been made for some 60 years.
What has the organizational response looked like after so many years? Memos? Statements? Town halls? Talks? Series of discussions? I am not making light; these are very good starts in completing the 60-year-old “to do” list. The better question might be: what should we be doing—next? There have been a number of suggestions that have appeared in written form, from lengthy booklets to short and sweet lists [10 signs of institutionalized racism—just follow the 10 steps and stop it]. My good colleagues here and in other spaces have provided tools, consulting, books, pamphlets, conversations and discussions. Heck, two of my own colleagues have provided guidelines for the worth and establishment of cultural centers and culturally engaging environments.
So why are we still where we were almost 60 years ago? Well, the majority of organizations actually still believe that incremental change is good enough or they simply haven’t listened at all, and there are other institutions that actually believe that there is no problem. I argue that broad, rampant, revolutionary, radical, immediate, sweeping and constant change is what is needed, and quite frankly this is exactly what students across the country have been calling for. Again—for 60 years. What is the hold-up?
The action steps toward immediate change seem relatively simple given what we have learned since the protest from the civil rights movement. There are broad themes that students have laid out for institutions of higher education. I have “listed” a cheat sheet of things that organizational leaders should be considering and doing to address the demands of the “to do” list.
- Organizational structure hiring
- What does my faculty demographic look like? As organizations pare down to whom they have hired, they have to honestly ask whether they have hired a diverse faculty. Not one or two non-critical non-conscious, safe faculty of color. But have we hired racially conscious faculty of color? [Read Robin Di’Angelo’s work on white fragility.]
- If your faculty is not diverse, then ask why not—realistically? Who serves on hiring committees? We all know that search committees determine whoever sets foot on the campus. So if your faculty is not diverse, then check out your committees and the deans of schools who don’t seem to notice a problem.
- What do administrative staff look like and why? Students are cognizant and troubled by the demographic for very real reasons. Take a look at your organizational website right now. Who graces the front page? Administrative positions … lower level position, announcements, endowed chairs, etc. Don’t be surprised. Research is clear that individuals tend to hire themselves or people who look and act like themselves. Not only is this not good practice in general, but, in a system of privilege based on race, organizations are destined to become structurally racist.
- When institutions struggle to increase the number of students of color, they need to ask why and dig deeper to unveil the structural flaws. How is the institution actively recruiting students of color? What retention programs are specifically focused on students of color? If one of the members of programs or departments cannot find any, then, quite frankly, they are not looking, do not know where to look, or simply do not care or see a problem. See bullet 3 under cultural competence. Whoever has been hired to do the looking may be culturally incompetent.
- Are all programs working to retain students of color and recruiting students of color? Not just the programming that is specifically focused on students of color. You know them, the names of such programs typically have the descriptor in the title or a name of some person of color. ALL programs throughout the campus should be recruiting and retaining students of color. Look at your honors college. They are quite frankly the tell-tale sign. Who are you honoring?
- Cultural competency and what we teach
- While students are engaging in conversations about race, are faculty and staff engaged in similar discourse? Students are demanding cultural competency training for faculty, staff, administrators and students. That means they are claiming that faculty and administrators are culturally incompetent. Think about it this way: if we were all in the field of medicine and students protested that faculty were incompetent, there would be far worse repercussions. We would be sued for malpractice. We should all be professionally and profoundly responsible for students’ educational success.
- Consider policy regarding requiring cultural competency training. Organizations should consider their own institutional liability regarding students’ psychological and physical health. If students are willing to go on hunger strikes because the treatment on their college campus is so poor, then perhaps one of the programs that might support their physical and mental health may be a cultural competence class. Think about it this way: if harassment training is mandatory on most campuses, then certainly competency training should be considered. Organizations simply can no longer deny the pathological and psychological toll that racism plays in the lives of students.
- Cultural space and language
- Are there organizations and programs in place on your campus aimed at supporting underrepresented students of color? If so, what does that mean?
- Given that organizations are structurally racist and steeped in racist ideology, what centers or spaces are available to support students of color specifically?
- Are all spaces on campus culturally welcoming to all students?
Interestingly, I think all of “this” is fairly easy to resolve. The most pressing question is, what are institutional leaders doing right now. Like the students of the 1960s, today’s students are demanding the exact same things. Given that, collectively, most institutions have ignored students’ demands for social and racial justice, yet so eloquently and sanctimoniously archived 60 years’ worth of crib sheets, notes, and memos of identical requests to those made in 2015, we should know exactly how to respond.