Climate Change

By Pluviose, David | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, July 14, 2016 | Go to article overview

Climate Change


Pluviose, David, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


The University of Missouri protests led by Black students that prompted the resignations of System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin last November had ripple effects across the nation. In solidarity with their counterparts in Missouri, Black students across the nation held protests of their own highlighting diversity and inclusion shortcomings on their respective campuses, including institutions such as Ithaca College and Yale University and, in the Pacific Northwest, the University of Oregon (UO).

On November 12, 2015, the Black Student Task Force (BSTF) held a protest on the campus of UO, expressing the view that the inclusion struggles of their counterparts at Mizzou mirror their own struggles at Oregon's public flagship institution.

The BSTF met with new UO President Michael Schill and other campus administrators that day to highlight the marginalization and racism they said they felt on a persistent basis at UO. On November 17, the Black Student Task Force issued to UO administrators a list of 12 demands they said would redress pervasive discrimination against Black students on UO's campus. In response to the BSTF list of demands, OU administrators created 13 working groups to address each of the 12 student demands point by point, with an additional working group on African-American student advising and retention.

BSTF Demand No. 2 pertains to the creation of an AfricanAmerican Opportunities program led by Black-identifying individuals to boost Black student enrollment specifically, similar to an existing Opportunities program for the Latino student body and community.

Though Black students represented 2 percent of the student body for the 2015-16 academic year, Latinos made up 9 percent and Asian and Pacific Islander students represented 6 percent of the population, respectively.

Some point out that UO's Black student population mirrors the low Black population across the state, as the Black population in Oregon is 2.1 percent according to 2015 census statistics. Notably, a constitutional ban against Blacks settling in Oregon was not repealed until the 1920s, according to an article posted to the City of Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability's website.

Yet BSTF member and graduate law student Kena Gomalo says half of UO's Black students are from California and UO could do more to recruit Black students from Oregon.

"For African-Americans specifically, we're endangered species on this campus. We're going extinct," says Gomalo, who hails from North Portland. "You go back to my neighborhood; I've never seen the University of Oregon in my neighborhood, ever.

"A lot of us from Portland, Black folks from Portland, we live in Section 8 housing that was built during the Roosevelt era. I did. I do, still. Our struggle is unique. The University of Oregon needs to acknowledge that. This is why we created a list of demands, twice. This is why we're still not near 2 percent. The University of Oregon needs to recognize our unique plight, and respect it," Gomalo adds.

UO responds

In April, Schill and Dr. Yvette Alex-Assensoh, UO's vice president for equity and inclusion, outlined six responses to the BSTF's demands, indicating more will be done to address the demands.

According to the update from Schill and Alex-Assensoh, in response to BSTF Demand No. 2 regarding the creation of an African-American Opportunities program, beginning this fall, UO's "Enrollment Management team will significantly expand its efforts to attract and recruit African-American students, including programs and activities that enhance the UO's outreach to and partnership with AfricanAmerican students, their families and community partners. This will also include additional staff members who are experienced in working with the African-American community."

Schill harkens back to his student days at Princeton in reflecting on what it's like to be the "other" on campus. …

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