ANALYSIS: Black College Students Describe Tense Racial Climate

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Black students at the University of Michigan are describing their college experience at the prestigious Ann Arbor institution with one provocative word: Racism. “Our list of demands came out of a tense racial climate that is being experienced not only at Michigan, but at college campuses around the United States,” Tyrell Collier, the president of the Black Student Union, told BET.com.

“I think we’re in a period where universities are lacking in their ability to foster a sense of inclusion on campuses,” said Collier, a senior from Grand Rapids, Michigan, majoring in sociology and African-American studies. “I don’t think they are doing enough to promote interaction between people of different races and different cultural backgrounds.”

It’s unfortunate that 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination based on skin color, black students who are enrolled at the University of Michigan — and other predominantly white colleges in America — need what Collier describes as “tough skin.” Collier and other black students at the University of Michigan make up 5% of some 28,000 undergraduate students.

“What we’ve been talking about the most is availability of scholarships for African-American students, as well as further recruitment efforts in metropolitan areas that have a high population of African-American students,” Collier told reporters.

Black students started a campaign called “Being Black at The University of Michigan,” (#BBUM). According to USA Today, when Collier asked black students to tweet about what it’s like being black at the University of Michigan, there were thousands of responses that characterized the black experience on campus.

–”Dealing with the irony of being the only black person in a class where the prof says it’s easier for black folks to get admitted.”

–”#BBUM is NOT raising your hand in class because you do not want to be THAT black person who just doesn’t get it”

–”U can’t simply strategically place a few colorful faces on a pamphlet & call urself a diverse instit #BBUM”

–”having to be a ‘know it all’ in order to receive full credit on assignments b/c your peers second-guess all of your answers”

–”that first class when black culture becomes the topic and you suddenly become the voice of all black people”

–”Are you from Detroit? What sport do you play?”

“We just wanted to bring awareness to things that black students go through, day to day,” Collier told USA Today. Students met recently with college officials to demand more funding for a new multicultural center to provide affordable housing for students who are financially disadvantaged. Collier also demanded that college officials increase enrollments at Michigan by 10 percent.

Collier is not alone. Black college students across the country are reporting racist incidents and are meeting with college officials to complain about a wave of discriminatory actions targeting African-American students.

In January, for example, a white fraternity at Arizona State University sponsored a party over the Martin Luther King holiday that showed white students wearing baggy pants and posing with cups made from hollowed-out watermelons.

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a student used the N-word during a committee hearing in which he opposed a resolution encouraging student representatives not to use derogatory language in everyday speech.

And a San Jose State University, three white students were charged with hate crimes, including calling their black roommate derogatory names, writing racial epithets on whiteboards in their suite, and, at one point, hanging a bicycle lock around his neck.

Meanwhile, at the University of Michigan, President Mary Sue Coleman says she understands the concerns expressed from black students.

“We hear loud and clear that students of color feel isolated and marginalized and that our frequently declared ‘commitment to diversity’ is perceived as disingenuous,” Coleman told reporters.

I’m glad Coleman says she gets it, but now what? What do you think?

(Photo: University of Michigan Black Student Union Facebook page)

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