This November, a wave of student activism drew attention to the problem of racism at colleges and universities in the United States. Sparked by protests at the University of Missouri, nicknamed Mizzou, we saw actions at dozens of colleges. It was a spectacular show of strength and solidarity and activists have won many concessions, including new funding, resignations, and promises to re-name buildings.
Activists’ grievances are structural—aimed at how colleges are organized and who is in charge, what colleges teach and who does the teaching, and what values are centered and where they come from—but they are also interpersonal. Student activists of color talked about being subject to overtly racist behavior from others and being on the receiving end of microaggressions, seemingly innocuous commentary from others that remind them that they do not, as a Claremont McKenna dean so poorly put it, “fit the mold.” That dean lost her job after that comment. Many student activists seem to embrace the policing of offensive speech, both the hateful and the ignorant kind.