The University of Missouri is Not Unique —On the National Racial Climate in Higher Education Today

By Amer F. Ahmed
Ummah Wide

The recent student activism and turmoil regarding the racial climate at the University of Missouri has brought tremendous attention to the activism of students regarding the racial climate on campus and the resignation of its president and chancellor. In much of the media coverage, the questions raised are often framed as, “What’s wrong with the racial climate on that particular campus?” Instead the question we should ask is, “Why does their racial climate seem so much like so many other campuses?” The attempt by many to make exceptional what is happening at the University of Missouri from the broader realities of higher education in the United States exposes deep and fundamental misunderstandings of the current racial climate and the state of higher education today.

As a higher educational professional with expertise in institutional diversity and inclusion, I think it is incumbent to say that the racial climate and overall political dynamics at the University of Missouri are not unique. As many of us have heard from news reports, there have been numerous incidences of racial hate and bias that have occurred on that campus. Sadly, such incidences, both reported and unreported, occur every day on campuses throughout the United States. When students raise concerns regarding such incidences, it is usually reflective of a broader experience of marginality they are encountering on campus beyond simply these particular incidences. They are usually voicing frustration with an overall racial climate that persists throughout their entire life on campus including in class, residence halls, dining halls, etc. These persistent experiences, often referred to as microaggressions, characterize marginalization within environments of systemic racism in institutions throughout our society (not just in higher education).

Many campuses, despite extensive rhetoric on the importance of diversity and inclusion, are unresponsive to frustration expressed by students. In fact, the disconnect between rhetoric about how much institutions value diversity from their actual experience on campus often exacerbates student frustrations. When students express frustrations, administrators often point to hate/bias protocols and support programs for students of color as well as other marginalized groups. As a result, it often perplexes leadership that such resources tend to not alleviate racial climate issues.

One source of the problem is that too many campuses, throughout their history, have only changed when forced to change through reactive policies that are not meant to fundamentally alter the pre-existing culture. Each college and university has its own history and culture with traditions that are valued by a number of its constituencies. It is often the attachment to these cultural norms and realities that is at the heart of the resistance to change. At predominantly and historically white institutions, that usually means that there are a lot of older white people (alums, emeritus faculty, donors, etc.) with money who want to maintain what they valued about their experience. Their past experiences are almost always associated less diverse campus in which marginalized groups were even less represented than they are today. When students of color and other marginalized groups raise their voice, they challenge the utopic image that many white alums and other constituencies have of their beloved institution. These competing interests dramatically impact the racial politics of institutions and is a huge source of resistance to change being demanded by students.

Beyond these historically-based overarching and broad-based challenges that characterize racial politics in higher education, the University of Missouri reflects trends that in most cases are making things worse.

Tim Wolfe, the recently resigned ex-president of the University of Missouri system, had no higher education background and all of his professional experience was from corporate America. This is a prime example of neoliberalism in higher education in which corporate and financial interests have taken over the agenda at the expense of Higher Education as a Public Good.

Another component of the financial interests and the racial politics of Higher Education is within the context of major College Athletics. We should all be 100% clear that the only reason that the resignations occurred (and very few of us are even talking about this) was because the Black football players at University of Missouri boycotted a game that would have cost the institution at least $1 million. Their act represents the leverage that few athletes realize they have despite their vulnerability as players without scholarships guaranteed for their entire degree. These athletes are typically intentionally disconnected from broader campus life by head coaches (who are often the highest-paid employees in the institution), which is what makes this instance rare. What is not rare is the large amount of Black players on teams with overwhelmingly white spectators in the stadiums and arenas. In addition, these players function like unpaid employees and professional athletes, making millions in revenue for the institutions while barely able to fully function as a student on campus because of the time commitment demanded in athletics.

Meanwhile, within this context of ongoing exploitation of Black bodies on these campuses, these same institutions maintain their rhetoric about diversity and inclusion in superficial ways attempting to do as little as possible without truly having to change. In doing so, there are a number of practices that many institutions undertake in order to appear committed to change when actually seeking to maintain the status quo. Here is a small list of those practices (keep an eye out for these on your campuses):

Touting the visits of high-profile speakers to give a major public lectures for Martin Luther King Day or Black History Month on subjects like Race, Racism, Diversity, Inclusion, Social Justice, “Civility”, and/or Global Leadership, etc. Institutions often pay exorbitant speaker’s fees rather than using those same resources towards meaningful processes of institutional change. Do not be distracted by the allure of thinking something is happening just because Cornell West came to speak on your campus for an evening. The talk will happen, everyone will feel good about what was said, and nothing meaningful on campus will change because it has no effect on policies.

Proclaiming that their Multicultural Office/Center is a demonstration of commitment. However, they are usually marginalized politically within the institution. Meanwhile, many institutions are cutting resources to Ethnic Studies.

Recruitment efforts for underrepresented groups without serious discussion of racial climate or academic and co-curricular retention.

Offering a few scholarships to Low-income Students of Color from surrounding areas

Disproportionately representing Students of Color in marketing materials compared to actual enrollment figures.

Empty promises with regards to increased resources and commitments in response to student protest in hopes of waiting until organized students graduate so that they don’t actually have to deliver on those commitments.

Touting the increase of full-pay International Students as an example of a “diversifying globalized campus” while doing little on inequity, racism and domestic diversity issues.

Service-learning opportunities for students to “serve” surrounding low-income communities.

Hiring People of Color with PhD’s for Executive Diversity positions like Chief Diversity Officer but with no expertise in Diversity roles in order to look like they’re doing something without empowering them to changing any serious policies or practice.

Although some of these examples (like scholarships and support resources) are not inherently bad things, it’s important that they are not the only thing the institution is doing. If they are not part of a comprehensive strategy within a broader institutional strategic planning process, it’s essentially all a show to make it look like they’re committed.

Institutions that show commitment tend to make more proactive efforts without any protests. They develop clear, accountable and measurable goals on Diversity as part of their overall Strategic Planning process (just like institutions do with everything else they make real commitments to). They recognize Diversity and Inclusion as an institution-wide strategy that involves capacity-building, recruitment, retention and accountability for students, staff and faculty. There are institutions who are making such commitments, but unfortunately they are not the norm.

It is my hope that institutions will take heed from the lessons of University of Missouri. Administrations throughout this country at this very moment are thinking about how they can avoid being similarly embarrassed. The reality is that the process is not sexy and takes a long time. It’s hard work that requires a community-wide commitment. Hopefully, institutions begin to make more proactive efforts in light of these recent examples of what can occur when you are only reactive. One thing is for sure, students around the country have seen what happened at University of Missouri and if they’re frustrated with the racial climate, it is likely that more protests will be coming soon.


Youth Leadership Summit

By Ahmed al-Hilali

hilaliDEARBORN— the second annual 2011 Youth Leadership Summit on Race was held at the U of M Dearborn on Saturday to discuss the recent racial tension.

The meeting was co-sponsored by the U of M Dearborn board of directors and the New Detroit Foundation. Many people of different races and backgrounds attended the event in hope of learning more about religion and different types of cultural backgrounds. Those in attendance engaged in constructive talks to get to know more about each other; many friendships were made. There were also a few interactive activities, where each person would describe himself in one word, and the people that had that word in common would engage in constructive dialogue. Next year, New Detroit will be aiming for better results.


Gentlemen…Start Your Engines!

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

“Automobiles are not ferocious…. it is man who is to be feared.”

~Robbins B. Stoeckel

lewis-karting_32_m-680x454As further evidence that the global economic turndown has not affected most wealthy Arab nations, give or take a couple of debt-riddled locales, a new endurance motoring activity will be taking place in Kuwait City at the end of this month (November 24-26). Courtesy of “Gulf Run”, who has brought some of the most mind-jarring motor races to the region, the newest moto-sport is called “The 26 Hour Endurance Gulf Run Karting” Race. Basically, it pits man against machine in a breathtaking 26 hours around the track to see who can withstand the endless circling, keep up pace with other drivers without crashing and go on to claim that checkered flag.

With a $4,300 price tag per team, the karting race is neither for the financially challenged nor the faint hearted. Registration is currently open for teams and the ticket price includes the use of a twin engine Honda Pro Kart for the duration of the race, spare parts, pit crew area, gas and other fluids, use of the track and access to a full-equipped medical team on site as well as the fire brigade just in case of any mishaps on the track. Teams can be made up of up to 12 drivers with a minimum of 4 drivers per team. Each team is allowed to wear their own logo emblazoned t-shirts and can even cover the car with sponsor’s decals, however such marketing efforts count as “out of pocket” costs.

Safety during the course of the event is of the utmost importance to Gulf Run organizers. The rules stipulate that all drivers must be 18 years old and have a valid driver’s license. Each driver will also be given special instructions regarding safety features, the rules and proper conduct expected during the race.  The UK Marshalls will oversee the event in accordance with current FIA regulations. Teams who ignore safety rules or intentionally interfere with the course of the race will be disqualified.

The course will be set up at the Mishref fairgrounds and a special village will be ready by race day to tend to the needs of both drivers and spectators alike. According to the Gulf Run website the 26 hour endurance race will require, “… mental and physical preparation and of course a good strategy within your team is the key to success. If you join to have fun, to do something new, or to compete professionally, it will be an amazing adventure you will never forget. See you at the track.”  Blogs and local media outlets will be covering the event, which is the first of its kind in Kuwait.


Houstonian Corner (V11-I52)

Parker & Green Win in Low Turn-Out Elections

Picture AI Only 17% of the registered voters, i.e. 155,312 voted, in a population of over 2 million, in the City of Houston Mayoral Run-Off Elections, to elect the termed-out City Controller Annise D. Parker, as the 61st Mayor of the Third Largest Metropolis of USA. Her victory by 8,638 votes over her opponent Gene Locke, became headlines of various worldwide news agencies and national newspapers across the globe, because she will be the first openly gay Mayor of one of the largest cities of USA, when sworn in January 2010.

In another race for the second most powerful position in the City of Houston after Mayor, the Controller race was won by the termed out City Councilman Ronald Green, who was 4,271 ahead of termed out City Councilman Masur Javed Khan. Interestedly total number of voters in Controller Elections was 144,253, which is 11,059 voters less than the Mayoral Race, meaning a little over 11 thousand voters did not bother to vote in the Controller Election. In mail-in ballots and actual voting day, M. J. Khan got more votes than Ronald Green, while the winner Ron Green got most of the votes during actual early voting at various stations.

After the victory, the first openly gay Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker said: “The voters of Houston have opened the door to history…I know what this win means to many of us who never thought we could achieve high office…But now, from this moment, let us join as one community. We are united in one goal in making this city the city that it can be, should be, might be, will be…I promise to give to citizens an administration of honesty, integrity and transparency…The only special interest will be the public. We are in this together. We rise or fall together.”

Parker will face a $130 million budget deficit when her term as mayor begins in early January. Mayor-Elect Parker was opposed by conservative religious groups and anti-gay activists. However, gay and lesbian political organizations all over the nation rallied to support Parker by raising funds for her campaign and making calls to urge people to vote.

Here are the various results in the Run-Off Elections:

Mayor of Houston

Annise D. Parker 81,975 (53%) — Gene Locke73,337 (47%)

City of Houston Controller

Ronald Green 74,262 (51%) — M. J. Khan 69,991 (49%)

Houston City Council District A

Brenda Stardig 9,258 (57%) — Lane Lewis 7,103 (43%)

Houston City Council District F

AL Hoang 4,681 (53%) — Mike Laster 4,180 (47%)

Houston City Council At Large Pos 1

Stephen Costello 67,842 (52%) — Karen Derr 62,249 (48%)

Houston City Council At Large Pos 2

Sue Lovell 68,676 (54%) — Andrew C. Burks, Jr. 58,317 (46%)

Houston City Council At Large Pos 5

Jolanda “Jo” Jones 69,763 (51%) — Jack Christie 68,080 (49%)

Bellaire City Council Pos 3

Corbett Daniel Parker 1,296 (72%_ — Roseann Rogers 511 (28%)

Bellaire City Council Pos 5

Andrew Friedberg 971 (53%) — James B. Jameson 869 (47%)

Houston ISD Trustee District I

Anna Eastman 4,959 (51%) — Alma Lara 4,766 (49%)

Houston ISD Trustee District IX

Lawrence “Larry” Marshall 6,295 (51%) — Adrian Collins 6,012 (49%)


Racial Profiling Still Pervasive: ACLU Report

Chris Levister, Black Voice

U.S. authorities detain and harass thousands of people each year solely on the basis of religion, race or nationality despite efforts by senior law enforcement officials and the government to stop it, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

An ACLU report said racial profiling was often applied to immigrants from South Asia and to North Africans suspected of being Islamic militants following the September 11, 2001, attacks carried out by Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda militants.

The report, submitted on Tuesday to the U.N. Committee to End Racial Discrimination, said profiling could involve harassment, detention, arrest or investigation. Many Latin American immigrants were also targeted for immigration violations while others, including Black Americans, were profiled as suspected drug offenders, said the report, which did not provide precise figures.

President Barack Obama’s government upholds the policy of the previous Bush administration that such profiling should end, but related laws contain a significant gray area, said Chandra Bhatnagar, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s human rights program.

According to 2003 federal guidelines, it is illegal to detain or investigate someone solely on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity, but there are exceptions in the context of national security and border control.

“While there is a political consensus regarding the problem and a need for a solution it has not translated into concrete action,” Bhatnagar said. He referred to the End Racial Profiling Bill first introduced in 1997, but which had not passed into law.

One factor that had increased the profiling of Latin Americans was a federal program to shift responsibility and resources for immigration enforcement to local and state authorities, according to the report.

Anecdotal evidence suggested that an increasing number of people had been targeted under profiling for possible immigration offenses over the past eight years, it said.

“Police officers who are often not adequately trained and in some cases not trained at all, in federal immigration enforcement, will improperly rely on race or ethnicity as a proxy for undocumented status,” the report said.

The involvement of local police in this was having a “devastating impact” on some communities, Bhatnagar said.

In April the ACLU of Southern California filed suit against Moreno Valley police and city officials and the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology claiming racial profiling.

The suit filed on behalf of three Moreno Valley barbers in U.S. District Court in Riverside alleged that “five of the six barbershops selected as targets for raid-style inspections on April 2, 2008, were owned by, operated by, and primarily frequented by African Americans.”

The officers, city employees and members of the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology allegedly targeted six shops in warrantless raids because of race, said lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union. The suit also alleges innocent clients waiting for haircuts and other services were detained, harassed and forced to produce identification.

ACLU alleged the officers and other agents targeted the businesses “based, in part or in whole, on the race of the barbers and their clientele.”

Police, city and state officials have denied the claims. The case has attracted national attention for what ACLU lawyers and many in communities of color call blatant evidence that racial profiling is still pervasive.