College Hate & Where We Go From Here

By Rinku Sen Feb 23, 2007

(New York Times Photo) There seems to be a revival of race-talk on college campuses, most of it din rather than discourse. White students are grooving to hate-themed parties at Clemson and Santa Clara University; college Republicans at NYU held a contest in which students were to hunt the illegal immigrant; MIT apologized publicly to a black biologist who went on hunger strike to protest the racist tenure review process. All this activity will no doubt excite students of color to pursue change, and, if I remember anything about my student days, the vast majority of that pursuit will be for programs that teach students and faculty how to see past stereotypes. The important thing to remember is that stereotypes have their roots in demographics, and demographics have their roots in policy and practice. Let’s just consider the stereotypes of scientific Asians and athletic Blacks that MIT is now struggling with. We can draw a straight line between the 1965 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which ended an 80-year ban on immigration from Asian countries by letting my people in, but only if we were professionals, especially in the sciences. Before that policy change, the primary Asian stereotype was not about the model minority, but rather of the yellow peril. The Black stereotypes stem from centuries of disinvestment in public education for Black kids in particular, as well as from the War on Drugs and the often unwritten policies of employers only to hire Blacks in menial jobs. So, campus activists take note – if you want to challenge stereotyping on your campus, move beyond the standard demands – usually to punish the most obvious racists and make the whole campus sit through diversity training. Look instead toward the practices and policies related to hiring, curricular review and, of course, admissions. Those are the things that will change campus demographics, the key to challenging stereotypes. Preparing to defend affirmative action while creating new pipelines for kids of color to get to college seem like a good place to start.