Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Colleges Trying to Find Ways to Deal with Racial Incidents

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Colleges Trying to Find Ways to Deal with Racial Incidents

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * Officials were slow to handle racial incidents at the University of Missouri, and that contributed to protests, a student hunger strike, a threatened boycott by the football team and ultimately, the departures of two administrators.

At the University of Oklahoma, damage over a racist chant that was caught on video was kept to a minimum when the school president acted quickly to expel the students and condemn the episode.

Swift action is high among the best practices that school leaders can use to help defuse campus tension, experts say.

"There's no such thing as having a perfect plan, but you have to continually be in the motion of creating a better campus climate," said Jabar Shumate, Oklahoma's vice president for the university community.

Benjamin Reese, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, said administrators should not wait for students to demand a meeting. Instead, he said, they can invite students to strategic meetings and join students in protests if it's over an issue they agree with. Administrators should know what they are going to do before something happens and be willing to speak out immediately, Reese said.

For example, Harvard University President Drew Faust immediately condemned the taping over of portraits of black professors on a wall. "Such acts of hatred are inimical to our most fundamental values and represent an assault on the mutual respect essential to our purposes as a community of learning and inquiry," Faust said a day after that happened.

"We all absolutely need to prepare and there's a lot of things that we can do," said Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University- Newark, who joined students at her university at a recent protest.

College leaders cannot create perfect environments, Reese said, "but I'd better try as hard as I can to work toward that environment." He plans a national meeting to help colleges come up with strategies.

Campus protests are taking place almost daily.

At Missouri, the perceived slow response to a series of episodes marked by racial slurs and graffiti sparked protests. Students are protesting at places such as Yale, where a college administrator upset many students by pushing back against a school committee that asked students to avoid culturally stereotypical Halloween costumes such as Native American headpieces. …

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