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Campus Uprisings


The below is excerpted from Campus Uprisings: How Student Activists and Collegiate Leaders Resist Racism and Create Hope, edited by Ty-Ron M.O. Douglas, Kmt G. Shockley, and Ivory Toldson

Series Foreword for the Multicultural Education Series

This informative and timely book gives a comprehensive overview of the origin, historical development, and current manifestations of protests and uprisings that have occurred in the past and that are still taking place on college and university campuses. The wide scope and range of the institutions that have experienced uprisings that are examined in this book are among its important contributions to the higher education literature on diversity.

This book describes and examines campus protests and uprisings at historically Black institutions such as Howard and Fisk universities, as well as at historically White colleges and universities such as the University of Missouri, Yale, Harvard, Winthrop, and Clemson universities. An illuminating and informative chapter in this book by James E. Alford, Jr. describes the history of activism and protest at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) from 1920 to 1940. Alford provides a complex and searing description of how Black colleges were controlled by White administrators, boards, and philanthropies from their founding until decades later. Many of the professors at the HBCUs during their early decades were also White. Howard University was founded in 1867. Its first Black president, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, was not appointed until 1926. Spelman College was founded in 1881; its first Black and first male president, Albert E. Manley, was appointed in 1953.

During the years in which the HBCUs were controlled by White administrators and boards, the goal of most of the campus protests was to make these campuses more authentically Black and sites of a liberal rather than an industrial education. However, protest and rebellions on the HBCU campuses did not end when their administrators and boards became predominantly Black; rather, most of the goals of the protests changed and targeted the authoritarian and rigid rules that dominated campus life on HBCU campuses during the first decades of Black control.

Protest and rebellions continue to take place on both HBCU and predominantly White campuses. The comprehensive case studies of campus protest and uprisings on specific campuses in this book are informative and engaging. The chapter by Kofi LeNiles, Barbara Boakye, and Kmt G. Shockley chronicles and examines a protest that occurred at Howard University in 2018, which became the longest student occupation in the history of the university. The authors describe the ways in which social media was a major factor in the success of the Howard University uprising as well as in all other university uprisings and protests since the rise of social media. The chapter by Travis D. Boyce, Winsome M. Chunnu, and Brian Heilmeier provides vivid and interesting descriptions of how student activists have protested buildings on college campuses that commemorate men who supported the Confederacy and slavery. Several of the selections in the book give detailed and informative descriptions of Black studies and protests that occurred at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

The major purpose of the Multicultural Education Series is to provide preservice educators, practicing educators, graduate students, scholars, and policymakers with an interrelated and comprehensive set of books that summarizes and analyzes important research, theory, and practice related to the education of ethnic, racial, cultural, and linguistic groups in the United States and the education of mainstream students about diversity. The dimensions of multicultural education, developed by Banks (2004) and described in the Handbook of Research on Multicultural EducationThe Routledge Companion to Multicultural Education (Banks, 2009), and in the Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education (Banks, 2012), provide the conceptual framework for the development of the publications in the series. The dimensions are content integration, the knowledge construction process, prejudice reduction, equity pedagogy, and an empowering institutional culture and social structure. The books in the Multicultural Education Series provide research, theoretical, and practical knowledge about the behaviors and learning characteristics of students of color (Conchas & Vigil, 2012; Lee, 2007), language minority students (Gándara & Hopkins 2010; Valdés, 2001; Valdés, Capitelli, & Alvarez, 2011), low-income students (Cookson, 2013; Gorski, 2018), and other minoritized population groups, such as students who speak different varieties of English (Charity Hudley & Mallinson, 2011), and LGBTQ youth (Mayo, 2014).

A number of other books in the Multicultural Education Series describe problems related to diversity in higher education and ways in which it can be reformed. These books include Engaging the “Race Question”: Accountability and Equity in U.S. Higher Education by Alicia C. Dowd and Estela Mara Bensimon (2015); Race, Empire, and English Language Teaching: Creating Responsible and Ethical Anti-Racist Practice by Suhanthie Motha (2014); Achieving Equity for Latino Students: Expanding the Pathway to Higher Education Through Public Policy by Frances Contreras (2011); Americans by Heart: Undocumented Latino Students and the Promise of Higher Education by William Perez (2011); Asians in the Ivory Tower: Dilemmas of Racial Inequality in American Higher Education by Robert T. Teranishi (2010); and Immigrant-Origin Students in Community College: Navigating Risk and Reward in Higher Education, edited by Carola Suárez-Orozco and Olivia Osei-Twumasi (2019).

Campus uprisings and protests have played a major role in humanizing, deracializing, and creating more just and equitable communities on colleges and university campuses throughout the nation on both HBCU and historically White campuses. Most of the faculty of color that were hired at predominantly White universities in the late 1960s and early 1970s were hired in response to protest and campus uprisings (Turner & Myers, 2000). In 1969, one year after the Black Student Union occupied President Charles Odegaard’s office at the University of Washington and demanded change, I was the first African American professor hired by the College of Education. The University of Washington administration responded to the student activism, in part, by beginning to hire Black faculty across disciplines, from education, social work, history, business, and art (Brown, 2018). Jacob Lawrence, the eminent artist, was recruited and joined the faculty of the School of Art in 1971. Like other colleges and universities during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the University of Washington also responded to student protests by establishing programs in Black Studies, Asian/Pacific Islander Studies, and Chicano/as Studies. David Llorens, a writer and an associate editor of Ebony magazine in Chicago, was recruited to direct the newly established Black Studies program.

Black students, other students of color, and their White allies are continuing to take action on college and universities campuses today to make campus life more racially and culturally responsive and sustaining by protesting campus buildings that commemorate the Confederacy, by supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement, and by opposing the victimization of Black people by the police. The actions that college and university students are taking to humanize and to make the institutions of higher education more just today are consistent with the actions that college and university students took to attack racism and discrimination during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s that are powerfully documented in The Children, David Halberstam’s (1998) magisterial book. When a group of Black students sat down at the lunch counter reserved for Whites at a Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina, on February 1, 1960, it was a decisive event that initiated the sit-in movement to dismantle racial segregation at restaurants throughout the South.

Although the “arch of the moral universe is long and might bend toward justice” (Smith, 2018),* justice is not actualized on college and university campuses or in society writ large until citizens take action that is guided by democratic values and a commitment to social justice. The action taken by student activists on college and university campuses epitomizes citizen participation that is essential to humanize our educational institutions as well as society in the troubled and polarizing times in which we live. I am indebted to Professors Douglas, Shockley, and Toldson for editing this collection of timely and informative essays that describe the ways in which college and university students are taking civic action to close the gap between the ideals that college and universities articulate about diversity and inclusion in public statements and declarations and the daily lives that students experience on campus.

—James A. Banks


I begin with the presentation of four facts. First, higher education institutions in the United States were not built for people of color. Instead, profits from slavery, as well as the actual labor of enslaved African people, were used to build many of our nation’s early colleges and universities. Second, when Black collegians were afforded access to what Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodriguez and Aireale J. Rodgers call “White-serving institutions” (WSIs), their entry was almost always met with opposition, violence, and isolation. The majority of campuses that the first Black students entered prior to 1970 had no Black faculty, no Black history, no Black culture, no Black anything. The third fact is that WSIs have excluded students of color far longer than they have included them in any meaningful or measurable way. Some institutions are more than 300 years old—for 200 or more of those years, they only admitted and graduated students who are White. Fourth, and perhaps most relevant to this important book, is that the most significant racial breakthroughs in the history of American higher education were born of student protests.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other activist groups led a wave of campus uprisings in the 1960s that began to disrupt the exclusive, often violent, nature of WSIs. The Black Student Union and a coalition of other student groups known as the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) orchestrated sit-ins and other demonstrations at San Francisco State University; the outcome was the birth of Black Studies on that campus and gradually elsewhere across the country. Chicanx, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Black students stood in solidarity as they demanded that the curriculum at the University of California–Berkeley include their cultural histories and lives. Culture centers that still stand at WSIs were on lists of demands that student activists presented to their campus leaders 3 to 4 decades prior. Also, throughout the 1960s, students on the campuses of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were protesting racism and social injustice in the larger society.

I am not so sure that WSIs and the rest of higher education realize how indebted we all are to student activists and their supporters. There would be significantly fewer students, faculty, and administrators of color had protesters not demanded it. On some campuses, there would still be none. There would be no ethnic studies or ethnic culture centers. And the mainstream curriculum would likely include only Eurocentric and White American cultural perspectives. These suppositions of mine are informed largely by contemporary realities. Although previous generations of courageous student agitators have fought for these advances, they still remain obviously unimportant to the overwhelming majority of trustees, administrators, and faculty members at many WSIs.

Truth is, most boards of trustees are entirely White; many others include just one or two people of color. Eighty-seven percent of college and university presidents are White. This number is even higher when chief executives from HBCUs, Hispanic-serving institutions, and community colleges (which enroll a disproportionately high share of students of color in U.S. higher education) are excluded. Nearly 80% percent of full-time faculty members are White. Again, this number is higher at WSIs. On some campuses, African American Studies majors, minors, and programs were recently elevated to academic departments, mostly as a result of campus uprisings during the 2015–2016 academic school year. This is commendable. But the reality on lots of other campuses is that ethnic studies remain on the periphery, with a pathetically small number of full-time faculty and too few institutional resources. Moreover, ethnic culture centers and multicultural centers are located in raggedy buildings on the outskirts of campus, in dark basements of old buildings, and in tiny office suites that are incapable of accommodating more than a dozen students of color at one time. These are among the shortcomings of WSIs that activists are protesting in the modern era.

In addition to structural and systemic reminders of their unimportance, contemporary college students of color are also resisting commonplace encounters with racism and racial stress on their campuses. Researchers in the centers I founded at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Southern California have conducted face-to-face interviews with more than 10,000 undergraduates in every geographic region of the United States. Participants in our campus racial climate studies, many of whom are students of color, recalled for us numerous examples of horrifying racial violence at WSIs. For instance, on all but one campus where we have done this research, at least one Black student had been called a nigger by a White peer, professor, or faculty member. At other institutions, students of color had been racially profiled by campus police officers. White people called the police on tuition-paying Black collegians because they presumed them to be criminal outsiders who had come to inflict violence on campus.

In 2019, many students of color continue to be the only persons from their racial and ethnic groups in most classes they take at WSIs. Too many of them have told us that their classmates and instructors make racially offensive remarks in class without consequence; they expect the lone student of color to speak on behalf of all people of color in class discussions; and they are surprised when the one Latina writes well or thoughtfully contributes. Furthermore, they assume the one Latino man is an undocumented American and the Black woman was only admitted because of affirmative action—hence, they therefore do not deserve to be there. Black men are commonly presumed to be student-athletes and are treated in accordance with the “dumb jock” stereotype. Asian American, Pacific Islander, Native American, and multiracial students experience extreme invisibility and erasure; few campuses take the time to understand what their needs, issues, experiences, and expectations are.

At this point, I have several hundred examples of racial problems and occurrences that compel college students of color and their supporters to demand institutional change. These examples are from my research, studies that other scholars have published over the past 60 years, and other sources. During the 2016, 2017, and 2018 academic school years, Diverse Issues in Higher EducationInside Higher Ed, and The Chronicle of Higher Education published nearly 400 news stories about racial incidents on campuses across the country. Few of those situations and tragedies surprised me, as they are fully consistent with what I have been hearing for years in my interviews with students of color about their experiential realities at WSIs.

Because of their extraordinary contributions to racial progress in American higher education, I deeply respect and admire college student activists. But unfortunately, most campus administrators fear them. They want uprisings to quickly deflate and campuses to return to normal. What they do not realize is that “normal” is racist, exclusionary, offensive, and sometimes violent. It is not as clear to them as it is to me that students of color and their supporters are resisting everyday racism, while putting their bodies and academic lives on the line to improve WSIs for themselves and future generations. Campus leaders also routinely fail to realize how uprisings help actualize the rhetoric concerning equity, diversity, and inclusion espoused in presidential speeches, in admissions brochures, on university websites, and elsewhere. That is, activists help hold administrators and faculty members at WSIs accountable for becoming what they claim to be. These campus leaders rarely choose to acknowledge what I and several others know is true: WSIs will continually uphold White supremacy if frustrated students of color and others discontinue their activist efforts. For this reason, I will forever be a huge appreciator and proponent of campus uprisings. I am grateful to Professors Douglas, Shockley, and Toldson, as well as their brilliant cast of authors, for producing this timely book on the topic. I have even greater appreciation for the members of SNCC, TWLF, and other activist groups, as well as those who have advanced the Black Power, Black Lives Matter, and me too movements at colleges and universities across the country. Uprisings they led made campuses better, more diverse, more inclusive, more responsive, and more accountable.

—Shaun R. Harper, PhD, University of Southern California

Campus Uprisings: An Introduction

Ty-Ron M. O. Douglas, Kmt G. Shockley, and Ivory Toldson

Education researcher Sylvia Hurtado (2009) explains that “Just as a campus that embraces diversity provides substantial positive benefits, a hostile or discriminatory climate has substantial negative consequences . . . [and] students who reported negative or hostile encounters with members of other racial groups scored lower on the majority of outcomes” (p. 562). In addition, one of the negative consequences of discriminatory and hostile campus environments is minority student dropout rates. A study of students at the University of Washington found that “campus climate is significantly related to the academic achievement of African American students, as represented by GPA” (Taylor, 2006, p. 17). For decades, the data and numerous researchers have argued for inclusive campus environments (Astin, 1993; Fleming, 1985; Fries-Britt, 2002; Tinto et al., 2000). There is evidence that suggests campuses are becoming more hostile. As campuses are becoming more diverse, xenophobic sentiments and racial tensions promulgate. In colleges and universities across the nation, Black students and other historically marginalized groups confront institutional racism and systemic biases in the form of racial harassment and intimidation, racist symbols—such as Confederate flags and monuments to slaveholders—and discrimination in hiring and admissions policies.

In the past year alone, there have been several racist incidents on campuses that have received national and local media attention. For example, racist language and symbols appeared on the Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville (SIUE) campus. One such incident at SIUE included a note on the door of a student’s on-campus apartment that read “filthy nigger.” A swastika was carved into a campus elevator, and the word nigger was written on the whiteboard outside of a Black student’s dorm room door at Drake University. The word nigger was written on door nametags of Black students at the University of Michigan, and fighting broke out over the university’s response to the incident. The phrase “nigger lives here” was written on the door of a student at Westfield State University. White students on the University of Louisville campus received fliers encouraging them to join a White nationalist group. White supremacist fliers were also distributed around Stockton University advertising the “alt-right” movement. At Purdue University, fliers were posted that encouraged students to join the White nationalist group “Evropa.” In addition, a White student at the University of Hartford wrote racist social media posts about and put her bodily fluids on foods and on the toothbrush of her Black roommate.

Those incidents and others add to the negative climate on campuses around the country. In that sense, the uprisings we are witnessing are not simply appearing from nowhere. There is a historical and present-day context that seems to have created the need for such uprisings. This text captures the context and climate, and via the inclusion of Voices from the Field, it also captures the real voices of the people who are in leadership of the movement to stand up to racial injustice on college campuses. Hence, the purpose of this edited book is to explore the antecedents, prevalence, and consequences of racial tensions in higher education, and propose recommendations to create campus structures that are fair and inclusive to students of all races and social statuses. The intended audience for Campus Uprisings is university personnel, including faculty, staff, and administrators, students of higher education, and those concerned with the well-being of campus stakeholders as it relates to issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, activism, and campus uprisings (which are often an antecedent to community uprisings). The vision for Campus Uprisings is for this book to serve as a “go-to” resource to access the voices and expertise of scholars, practitioners, students, and administrators engaging in contemporary debates in education policy and practice related to campus uprisings. Specifically, this text will be the most accessible, contemporary primary resource on campus uprisings.

This book is written in an era of activism that has been punctuated and critically necessitated by 3 years of a Trump presidency; at a time when the NAACP has declared in unprecedented fashion a state advisory for Missouri warning Blacks against visiting the state; weeks after the fifth anniversary of the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; 2 years after horrific but not surprising scenes in Charlottesville, Virginia, left no question about the presence and persistence of White supremacy on college campuses and communities across this republic; moments after the 2019 National Football League (NFL) season concluded without Colin Kaepernick being included on a team roster as a consequence of his activism; and only months after The Chronicle of Higher Education’s major report declaring that “White Supremacist Groups Are Targeting College Campuses Like Never Before.”

The chapters included here provide insight into the specifics of what is causing campus uprisings and how those groups affected are responding to the uprisings.


* This quote is often attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. However, most reference sources indicate that King adapted the statement from one made by Theodore Parker (1810–1860), who was a minister of the Unitarian church, a reformer, and an abolitionist.


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