As usual when an event out of the ordinary appears on the media/campaign radar charges and counter-charges fly in the wind, pundits have a field day and gross generalizations rule supreme. So now the issue of the day is campus turmoil over claims of racism, administrative weakness and political correctness, with the first shot fired at the University of Missouri.
There is little doubt that many African-American students at Mizzou have experienced subtle and overt racism, usually in the form of speech – the N word – or symbols – hanging nooses tied to dorm room doors. But as with any mega-university the vast majority of students pay little attention to the smoldering controversy in large part because they are not party to such reprehensible actions. As is the case with most protests, a well-organized and vocal minority gets the attention of the powers that be and push the envelop.
What was different about the charges of systemic racism at the University of Missouri was that the football team joined the protest and refused to play until the president resigned. Now most presidents of institutions of higher learning would have promised to look into the charges, formed a blue ribbon commission and pledged to make reforms. But at Mizzou, there was a potential loss of $ 2 million in football revenue if the team did not play, and so the president, who appeared clueless, caved in to the bottom line and walked away.
Now the protest movement has spread to a few schools, again led by a small minority who make similar claims of racism. But what is most disturbing is that higher education has entered a phase in which every word and action made by administrators, faculty and students is examined for alleged racist or discriminatory content. Rather than working on campus to deal with real racial issues such as greater minority access to college, programs to create a truly integrated environment among students, bringing in speakers and mentors who have expertise in race relations, and hiring bold leaders who aren’t afraid to tell the student body to treat all members of the campus community with respect, the controversy becomes fodder for cable news and presidential debates.
But while it is easy to get caught up in the PC atmosphere on campus, it is far more important to admit that racism exists in this country and that people of color experience major life challenges in a white world. Sure small student groups have become experts at playing the PC card, but it is the climate of racism that needs to be addressed not because a $ 2 million football deal is at stake but because too many white people still do not respect or tolerate differences and then wonder why minorities are angry.