Racially charged demonstrations on college campuses are only going to get bigger, and race relations experts say the tensions are about to explode.
“I think the success these demonstrations have had recently will probably embolden students all across the country to take action when they experience or see injustice or discrimination or inequality,” Robert Slater, managing editor of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, told AMI Newswire.
One academic who has been targeted by undergraduate activists calls the situation "Saul Alinsky on steroids."
Racial tension on college campuses across the country has been brought to light after weeks of sit-ins and protests.
From the University of Missouri to Occidental College in Los Angeles, demonstrations have been held by students who demand racial quotas in faculty, special treatment for minorities and behavior modification among fellow students.
Protests at Yale University began after allegations that a member of a fraternity deemed a Halloween party for “white girls only.”
Students marched on UCLA’s campus following a "Kanye West" party at which some students reportedly wore blackface.
The University of Oklahoma, University of Maryland at College Park, University of Mississippi and Arizona University have all seen protests led by students who feel radical diversity is not top of mind for administrators.
The campus mayhem, which has been marked by misspelled and grammatically incorrect pamphlets as well as Ivy League students screaming "be quiet" at faculty, is ostensibly aimed at racism. But Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain, a prominent black conservative, notes that the purge is more political than racial.
Students at the high-priced Tennessee college have demanded that Swain be removed. She is not alone among targeted academics.
Observers now wonder whether the demonstrations will continue long enough to have a meaningful impact or fizzle out as other issues have.
“It’s hard to know the life cycle of these things. Sometimes, like Occupy Wall Street
it kind of died out and didn’t leave a big trace. So it’s hard to say whether this will continue and have a lasting impact,” George Washington University professor Robert Entman told AMI Newswire. “I think to that extent, at least some of the issues being raised are legitimate and present opportunities for teaching and learning.”
Entman, an expert in race and ethnic relations, said the protests on college campuses now were likely sparked by the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer.
Riots broke out again in late 2014, when a jury decided not to indict officer Darren Wilson, who fired the fatal shot, and in 2015, when the Ferguson police chief resigned.
The problem at the root of these campus demonstrations, Entman said, is larger than can be dealt with by college administrators.
“There is a sense that even kids who do everything right
and they’re students at Yale or whatever
they’re still subjected to various humiliations and discriminations and face a certain danger from police because they’re black. I think it’s vitally important that that be recognized and that something be done about it,” Entman told AMI Newswire.
“That’s a larger problem than anyone on a campus can deal with, but I think by bringing that to light they’re doing a service. It’s just very important to recognize that discrimination is not a thing of the past, even though it was outlawed in the civil rights act. That doesn’t mean everyone stopped discriminating.”
Entman studied at Calhoun College at Yale University. The school is named after John C. Calhoun, a pro-slavery politician in first half of the 1800s.
Recent demands from students and even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio call for the College’s name to be changed.
But renaming similar buildings and streets across the country could be a much more complicated issue, Entman said.
“Yes (Calhoun) was a racist, but so was every other founding father, and if we’re going to eliminate that we’re going to have to change the name of Washington, D.C. and the name of my university,” Entman told AMI Newswire.
“So my point is, let’s have a thoughtful conversation about how to preserve history without being overly dogmatic and rigid and angry
and lets try to do this in a compassionate intelligent way and I think it could be a really excellent learning opportunity for students and universities.”
At Vanderbilt University, professor Carol Swain has been the focus of protests. Swain, a strongly conservative African American, told AMI Newswire she stands firm in her position that these protests against her, and in general, need to stop.
Students on campus have called for her suspension from the university after allegations she discriminates against members of the LGBT community and non-Christian students. A petition against Swain states students who aren’t in line with her worldview “expose themselves to unfair assessment in class and may receive lower grades than their peers simply because of their identities.”
Professor Swain has been a controversial figure on Vanderbilt’s campus for years.
Swain said students who are protesting now are radicals, calling them “Saul Alinsky on steroids.”
“It’s time that some of the administrators grew a backbone and stood up and started holding these students accountable as adults,” Swain told AMI Newswire.
More than 1,700 students have signed the petition against Swain, to date.
Most students protesting racial tension on college campuses will get their first chance to vote in a presidential election in 2016. Entman told AMI Newswire it’s possible these issues will mobilize more interest in voting
and garner attention from the candidates.
“I think it’s appropriate for each candidate to address it in their own way,” Entman said. “I would hate for politicians to start intervening and politicize this. That would be bad. Each university, whether it’s public or private, should have a right to go through this as a community and come to a reasonable, thoughtful learning compromise.”
Historically, black students have voted for democratic candidates at rates higher than 90 percent, according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, but Slater said it’s too early to know whether these demonstrations will play a role in the outcome of the 2016 election.
“In the last two presidential elections, black voters turned out in huge numbers, probably due to President Obama’s presence on the ticket. Whoever the candidates are, that will be a challenge to reach those levels,” Slater told AMI Newswire.
More than 1,000 complaints about racial harassment in higher education have been made to the U.S. Education Department in the last seven years, according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan.