Racial antagonism is American as apple pie, and college campuses are hardly exempt from that reality. Growing tides of so-called “tolerance” and diversity initiatives alike have failed to silence the pervasive noise of bigotry at institutions of higher learning, and, perhaps, have added fuel to the fire (and tiki torches) instead.
Today, when a noose hangs in front of a dorm room, or when yet another Black student is harassed or assaulted by campus or local law enforcement officers, the public should know that these aren’t novel occurrences. In actuality, they are acts of violence connected to a long history of aggression against Black people who dare have access to education.
Media outlets breathlessly covered the bold and indignant displays of bigotry at the August 11 white nationalist rally now commonly referred to as “Charlottesville.” However, public dialogue failed to address the critical fact that this white supremacist march was held on the campus of the University of Virginia, a top-30 institution with nearly 22,000 students and an endowment well over $8 billion dollars…and also, a space where anti-Black racism has taken up significant space in the university’s long and recent histories.
In 2015, an organization known as Concerned Student 1950 came together at University of Missouri to confront issues of campus racism. They eventually lead a successful call for the resignation of then-president Tim Wolfe. CASSIUS tapped DeShaunya Ware, one of the group’s original members, to develop a list of tips for students who want to address bigotry and bias at their own institutions. Read closely and share with a friend.
Create a team
Activism is most effective when it’s a shared activity. In the fight to end white supremacy, it is crucial to create a team of likeminded people who can build together through brainstorming ideas, strategizing, supporting one another, and holding all parties accountable.
Develop a safe space
It is critical that organizing is done in ways that is welcoming to the team and inclusive of all the intersecting identities of your colleagues. That means honesty, openness, and vulnerability where folks feel protected from marginalization and are able to be their true authentic selves and share their experiences as everyone works collectively to combat the issues white supremacy and society impose on them.
Work with peers to create a platform that centers the voices and experiences of marginalized groups. Host town halls to listen to concerns, attend events hosted by other groups, and work together to empower, educate, and inform students and staff. Moving as a unit will help you raise the consciousness of those around you and achieve your desired results.
To truly confront bigotry and white supremacy, you have to be brave. There are going to be many obstacles placed in your way, but you must stay committed and in the fight. Be mindful of all those who have come before you, those who made it possible for you to be where you are today—if our ancestors gave up, many of the luxuries we enjoy today wouldn’t be possible. Be relentless, deliberate, and fearless in confronting injustice.
Demonstrate with purpose
Every action you organize should be purposeful, and participants should be educated on the “why.” When you have a purpose, you have a chance of reaching those who are “inconvenienced” by your demonstration; they might even unlearn a few things. You also provide the opportunity for the campus community to band together and be solutions-oriented in your quest to create a safe, inclusive, and welcoming campus environment for all students.
Pressure the administration
Now that you’ve raised awareness on campus, you need to make tangible change. Create a student-faculty-staff coalition. What do you all care about? How can you support one another and your causes? Create a power map that draws on people whose titles, relationships or capital can enable change. Then set up meetings with the administration to move the ball.
Make a statement
Make a public statement via video or writing. This statement should address the current campus climate, student experiences, administration response, and student solutions that are directly attached to change in the conditions for students. Your goal is to lay out the issues, push the administration to move appropriately, and limit the reoccurrence of oppression.
Build your platform
Use social media to remain visible and gain support from other students and outside supporters. Use hashtags and contact prominent activists in the movement who possess the same passion as students on campus to keep the fire burning. Be sure that your posts aim to educate and share students’ experiences that make your movement simultaneously personal and universal.
Embrace self care
Audre Lorde said it best: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The work of organizing can be physically, emotionally, and mentally threatening, and it will never stop if you don’t force it to. Take breaks and spend time doing simple things that help you relax and relieve tension from your body like exercise, long showers and spending quality time with friends. And don’t underestimate the value of therapy to process what you’re experiencing.
Fight beyond results
The work is never done. Work until all the goals have been accomplished, share the story of your successes, and do not allow others to co-opt a story that is not theirs to tell. Remember to adjust, strategize, be fearless, and—most importantly—remember that our collective liberation depends on this generation of leaders.
DeShaunya Ware is a McNair Scholar and member of Concerned Student 1950.
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