News from other higher education campuses helps us learn and understand what to do as an institution to avoid racist incidents. This issue we highlight the closing of two fraternities by activists at Swarthmore University, an incident of racial profiling at Barnard College, and the American Council on Education’s status of race and ethnicity in higher education.
Two local chapters of the Phi Psi and Delta Epsilon fraternities have decided to close their doors in response to a leak of the fraternities’ minutes which featured misogynistic, racist, and homophobic language. The minutes bring meetings from 2013 and 2014 to life by clearly showing how fraternity members made jokes about sexual assault and described discriminatory acts committed at their fraternity houses. The Swarthmore College administration responded by promising to investigate the claims made in the documents, but many students were still concerned. The Coalition to End Fraternity Violence, a campus group formed in response to the release of these documents, organized sit-ins to protest the existence of these fraternities, asking for the College to suspend their leases and ban them from campus. After 4 days of such protests, both fraternities announced that their local chapters will disband following the leak, stating: “the wounds are too deep to repair, and the best course of action for all those involved is to disband the fraternity completely and give up the fraternity house.” Swarthmore College President Valerie Smith said in a statement that they would continue to investigate the behavior, regardless of the decision. Activism is a powerful tool in advocating for change.
While heading to nearby Barnard College library for food, Columbia student Alexander McNab was pinned to a table for not presenting his ID to security officers. First pushing him against a coffee shop counter and then forcing him onto his back, Barnard security were filmed in an instance of racial profiling and excessive use of force towards the Columbia student, who had ventured to the campus for free food. Barnard students were able to capture two videos of the incident, which led to multiple statements and meetings by Barnard College administrators to address the situation. However, it was not until Dean Natalie J. Friedman took the stage that concerned students felt heard. While other school officials refused to identify the incident as racist and directly apologize, Friedman stood before attendees and stated: “I also apologize on behalf of the college for the racist incident that happened.” This prompted McNab to get up and shake her hand. “To me, that was the most beautiful thing she could do,” he said afterwards. This incident shows that there is still much work to do to achieve inclusivity, including students, faculty and staff. Naming an issue and taking a stand requires courage and is the true hallmark of an Ally.
As part of the American Council on Education’s (ACE) annual research on race in higher education, the organization released an interactive website highlighting the demographic shift in higher education from 1997 to 2017. The “Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report” study shows that 20 years later educational attainment gaps still exist between white Americans and racial minority groups. Furthermore, while more people of color are receiving bachelor degrees at higher levels in 2017, secondary degrees still lag behind rates of white Americans. One of the largest racial gaps identified was among full-time faculty, where only 21.1% identified as people of color and only 5.1% of university presidents identify as women of color. The report also features four scholarly essays that supplement the report’s data by providing a more in-depth look at the experience of people of color in higher education. The work of these seven scholars illuminates issues not commonly addressed in the higher education sphere, such as: the problematic nature of racial and ethnic categorization, the role of community colleges in serving communities of color, the unique circumstances of student debt for African Americans, and efforts campuses can take to increase faculty diversity. ACE hopes that this report will help institutional leaders create strategies to continue increasing racial diversity and inclusion on their campuses.