When college campuses become civil rights battlegrounds

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: The institutional racism manifesting in action at the University of Missouri has parallels at UC Berkeley, and students must stand in true solidarity

To the Black students at Mizzou, we, the Senior Editorial Board of The Daily Californian, are with you in solidarity.

We and the world watch those who would threaten the sense of safety of Black students at Mizzou.

We watch from across the country — in our classrooms, in our homes and on our streets.

We watch to support the fight against the systemic racism that prevails in our country in the latest manifestation of blatant and direct anti-Blackness. We watch to affirm the power of the protest and the act in the activism.

As we watch, we see and hear the echoes of the same systemic racism in our own city and on our own campus. The histories and the perceptions of the spaces differ, but many of the effects persist.

At the University of Missouri, after the administration mishandled a series of racist incidents, it was criticized by the activist group Concerned Student 1950, named after the year the university first admitted Black students. It called for the university to meet a list of demands, including the resignation of the university’s president, Tim Wolfe, after he explained to Black students that systemic oppression was “because you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.” A Mizzou student went on a hunger strike until Wolfe resigned, and the Black football players on the school’s team went on strike in solidarity with the group. Amid pressure from students and the potential loss of millions of dollars from missing football games, Wolfe resigned.

On our own campus, Black students are severely underrepresented. After Proposition 209 passed in 1996, with the consequence that affirmative action policies in UC enrollment were eliminated, the number of Black students at UC Berkeley began to drop and has yet to recover. This year, at UC Berkeley, about 3.4 percent of students identify as Black, compared with about 6.5 percent of California’s population.

Black students are also more likely to feel uncomfortable on campus — supposedly one of the most liberal, progressive campuses in the nation — than other racial groups, according to the results of the campus climate survey conducted in 2013.

The percentage of Black student-athletes is far greater than the percentage of Black students currently at UC Berkeley, a school that makes money off athletes’ skills and talent while the athletes see no profit from their hard work. Yet the Missouri football players were able to leverage their ability to generate revenue and their positions as public figures to force the university president to resign.

Students at UC Berkeley may not think about institutional forces as they walk around a campus accustomed to the lack of Black students. But the United States’ institutional oppression does not exclude college campuses. Student allies may have the personal conviction of “not being racist,” but the events at Mizzou are not isolated, alien situations. Students — us included — are complicit in the systemic racism that manifests at UC Berkeley.

Solidarity is the first step toward actualizing institutional change — as long as it sparks actual meditation and discussion on one’s individual role within our racist system. But students shouldn’t be complacent with their solidarity: Taking concrete steps for change is a necessary part of making racial equality more than just an aspiration. Students everywhere must follow through with their solidarity as participants and, hopefully, champions of this generational movement.

Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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