“No TRUMP! No KKK! No fascist USA!” This was one of the many chants at a rally at UC Berkeley in November inspired by Ann Coulter’s visit. Berkeley College Republicans invited Coulter, a conservative author, to speak on her various controversial beliefs, and news of her arrival sparked large protests against what Coulter preaches. Hundreds of students who were supposed to be at home studying and writing essays, such as myself, were instead too enraged to focus on their responsibilities.
Since the election of Donald Trump, schools all around the country have had more frequent incidents threatening the health and safety of minority students. These incidents have generated a growing fear and anxiety among populations impacted by the Trump administration. Because hate speech is protected under the first amendment to a certain degree, few policies prevent anyone from making hostile remarks that harm minority students’ physical and mental health.
As a student of color from a low-income background, I have gone through my entire educational experience believing that when I fail, it is entirely because of individual deficiencies and not because of structural factors beyond my control. Less affluent students of color suffer the most in higher education, enduring systemic oppression yet facing the same academic and social expectations as their richer and whiter counterparts.
When it comes to assessing educational success, our society is more likely to judge someone at an individual rather than a structural level. It is easy to blame all failure or credit all success to the efforts of one student. In doing so, however, we overlook the power structures that have critical consequences for every student in the country.
Because of these disproportionate challenges, these students fall into the risk of underperforming and dropping out. Government policies and educational institutions are not doing enough to mitigate these discrepancies that clearly affect this portion of the population. When the government fails to protect students, it is a school’s obligation to intervene and do what is right for their students.
The 2018 budget proposal by the Trump administration also aims to eliminate the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program, which would severely affect Pell Grant-eligible students. The administration also plans to make cuts to the Federal Work-Study program by almost 50%. It is obvious these policies affect low-income students who are typically minorities. This can be seen as just another example of institutionalized discrimination.
In many states, a student with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status can qualify for in-state tuition, making attendance significantly less costly. States such as Georgia, Florida and Texas, which have some of the highest populations of undocumented and DACA students, have declared they will introduce legislation to deny in-state tuition rates to these students.
Similarly, according to Harvard Law Review, for-profit universities have been known to sometimes utilize predatory practices against students of color, who are overrepresented on their campuses. Although Black and Latinx students make up less than a third of all college students, they constitute 50% of those attending for-profit universities. In the most competitive universities, however, students from the richest quarter of the population outnumber students from the poorest quarter by 25 to 1.
Former senior vice provost at The University of Texas in Austin, David Laude, conducted a study in which he found that the most important predictor of student success is household income, not necessarily how hard a student works. He gave an example comparing two students, one from a low-income family and one from an affluent family. When the richer student fails a test, his parents’ response is most likely, “Do not worry — that happened to me when I was in college.” While the student from the low-income family gets told something along the lines of “See, I told you this would happen — you are not studying hard enough.” This study demonstrates the importance of structural factors that contribute to a student’s failure or success.
Eliminating hateful rhetoric and targeted attacks toward minority students on university campuses is therefore one of the most important steps toward achieving success for minority students. Campuses should consider taking these steps to ensure the safety of all students.
If universities are not able to implement these vital measures, it is crucial to provide more funding for resources to assist students of color with emotional and psychological support, as they continue to be targeted. Low-income minority students are already dealing with enough stress and pressure from their more fortunate peers — and sometimes overly critical parents — and the system they are forced to overcome.
As a country, we need to ensure that we implement and protect policies that do not discriminate against students of low socioeconomic status. Economic obstacles should not prevent anyone from receiving the education they deserve, it is their fundamental human right.
Valentina Alvarado-Galvan studies sociology and human rights at UC Berkeley.