Recently, in a repeat of actions reminiscent of college campuses 50 years ago, African American students have gathered in solidarity in an effort to change the learning institutions they attend, and these protests have gone viral. This week Our Weekly was able to interview an organizer at the center of the storm.
Mika Cribbs, a 21-year-old senior at Occidental College (Oxy) majoring in community development and media relations is a mixed race African American and Japanese American student who was propelled by a racist incident that happened on campus.
“Last year a Trayvon Martin Memorial was created by African American Occidental students, in memory of the slain teenager, using Skittles and cans of Arizona ice tea. Two White students decided to desecrate the memorial by eating the Skittles and drinking the Arizona ice tea that was placed out for the memorial. Once the students were informed (that it was a memorial), they continued drinking and eating the items from the memorial, ignoring pleas from onlooking African American students to stop.”
According to Cribbs, weeks after that incident, “Occidental’s Black Student Association (BSA) reported the incident to the school administration. But nothing was done. In retaliation, White students who were part of desecrating the memorial, made a counter complaint against the BSA, and the individuals who complained were forced to attend ‘conduct’ meetings. However, there was no disciplinary actions taken towards the two White students,” Cribbs said.
This uneven treatment prompted Cribbs to look back at the history of ethnic protest by students at Occidental. Among the facts she discovered was that in March of 1912 during the college’s 25th anniversary, Booker T. Washington was invited by then-president Willis Baer to visit the campus.
She also discovered that Oxy had a Black president, John Slaugther, from 1988 to 1999. In 1968, a group called “the Black Caucus,” took over the Occidental administrative offices with a list of demands that would have made the campus a better environment for Blacks. These included creation of a Black Studies major, a demand that has remained unfulfilled.
On Feb. 18, 1981, Barack Obama, who was a student at Occidental College at the time, delivered his first public speech urging Oxy to divest from South Africa. The future president of the United States spoke standing in front of the same administration stairs occupied by “the Caucus.
In the 1990s, Oxy began to cut back on its financial support for multiculturalism which led to protests and sit-ins at the administration building for multiple days.
“Many of these demands have been carried over from generation to generation. I felt like it was crazy that the school had continued and not met any of these demands,” said Cribbs.
For her, this was a turning point. She and sophomore Adrian Adams started “I, Too, Am Oxy”—a social media campaign started in 2013 and documenting microaggressions against Blacks on Occidental’s campus. The “I, Too, Am Oxy” Tumblr page features pictures of Occidental students holding white boards documenting their experiences with racism. They initiated the project to provide students of color a social media platform through which they could tell their stories. Ultimately, the project also served to publicize these issues to the broader campus community—the page has reached almost 10,000 views to date.
In addition, her father, Art Cribbs, a former journalist and current activist and executive director of Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, has been on the front-line fighting for marginalized communities more than 40 years.
Cribbs said “a multitude of issues including the failure of Occidental College to heed to the requests of African American students down through the years prompted her actions.” This led to Cribbs’ decision to organize a protest. According to Cribbs, “It was agreed by all participating student organizations that allowing Blacks to lead would be monumental. The protesters included Asian, Latino, Muslim, and White students.
“On Monday morning, I woke up knowing that we had a rally at noon. I got dressed in all black and then went to work at the Center for Community-Based Learning from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. I was anxious and excited because of some of the tension happening on campus. I wasn’t sure how students would respond to the request to show up for a protest.”
Nearly 400 students showed up for the protest. Organizers thanked faculty, and other students who supported the movement. Cribbs said she was “surprised that they had so many White allies.” School officials estimate the protest would continue until at least tomorrow.
The Occidental college incident was just one of many college and university campuses that have been impacted by Black-led protests and demands for a more race-sensitive environment. Student activists at the University of Missouri, Purdue University, Claremont McKenna College, Yale University, Amherst College, Emory University, Georgetown University, and Princeton University are among the schools that have been the scene of student protests in the last two weeks.
At the University of Missouri, the group Concerned Students 1950 demanded that the percentage of Black faculty members be increased to 10 percent by the 2017-18 academic year. They also demanded that the university devise a plan to raise the retention rate of Black students, and that the former president, Tim Wolfe, issue a handwritten apology, among other things.
At Purdue University, students have demanded that president Mitch Daniels apologize for not acknowledging a culture of racism that exist on the campus; that the university reinstate the position of chief diversity officer; and that a racial-awareness curriculum be created and required for students, faculty members, staff members, administrators, and police officers.
At Claremont McKenna College, the junior class president resigned Tuesday after a furor erupted over a Facebook photograph that showed her with two women who were wearing sombreros, ponchos and mustaches for Halloween. A campus demonstration followed protesting the image.
At Amherst, a private liberal arts college in Massachusetts, student activists began a sit-in last Thursday at the campus library, intending “to stand in solidarity with the students in Mizzou, Yale, South Africa and every other institution across the world where Black people are marginalized and threatened.” Students gathered “to speak about their experiences with racism at Amherst and beyond,” according to the newspaper, The Amherst Student.
At Emory University, a blog read that the university’s president James W. Wagner, had been trying to control the damage done by a column he wrote for the university magazine. In it, he praised the 1787 three-fifths compromise, which allowed each slave to be counted as three-fifths of a person in determining how much Congressional power the Southern states would have, as an example of how polarized people could find common ground. Wagner’s article has been seized upon by students and faculty members who say it was yet one more example of insensitivity from the Emory administration, which in September announced sweeping cuts that some say unfairly targeted programs that are popular with minorities.
According to a Georgetown University blog, student activists were staging sit-ins outside the Georgetown president’s office, calling for a conversation about race on campus and how the school benefited from the institution of slavery during the tenure of former Georgetown president Thomas F. Mulledy; he sold 272 slaves to a Louisiana plantation owner to pay off university debts in 1838. They are also demanding, according to the blog, that Mulledy Hall which was unused for years, and reopened this fall as a student residence be renamed.
At Yale University according to the New York Times, students accused administrators of being insensitive to concerns about Halloween costumes considered to be culturally offensive. After the university’s Intercultural Affairs Council advised students in early November to avoid wearing costumes with Native American headdresses, turbans or blackface, faculty member Erika Christakis, in response to the council’s advice, wrote a disapproving e-mail.
“Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious?” she wrote. “A little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?” She added, “American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.” This response by a faculty member led to student protesters complaining about insensitivity and a slowness to address or the appearance of indifference to the problems of minority students.
The last take-over prior to printing OW occurred at Princeton University yesterday. According to news sources, about 300 Black and White students, from a group called “Justice League,” took part in the protest, demanding a range of changes to improve the social and academic experience of Black students. Scores of other students joined in the protest outside the building demanding Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from one of the colleges, because he was a racist.
Changing the names of campus buildings; the immediate removal of university and college presidents; a demand that university and college administrations apologize for racial injustices; recognizing traumatic events for Black students; hiring much-needed physicians of color to treat physical and emotional trauma associated with issues of identity; implementing institutional support for Black students facing trauma on campus; having defined reprecussions or sanctions for racist actions that take place on campus; making sure Black students and faculty are consulted during the implementation of diversity initiatives; creating higher compensation and more positions for Black staff and administrators; improving job security for Black administrators; increased funding of Black and multicultural student clubs and organizations; and more faculty of color in all departments are just a few of the requests the students are making.
And like the Arab Spring uprisings of 2010 which consisted of a series of anti-government protests, uprisings and rebellions that spread across the Middle East, caused the toppling of dictators, these revolutions became a domino effect caused by students and social media.
With all the protests coupled with the use of social media happening in American colleges, it seems as if this time period could very well be called a “Black Winter.”