Racial tensions in the past two weeks at Yale and the University of Missouri have highlighted the rampant structural and institutional racism that exists within these places of higher education. These incidents are most disconcerting because students of color have been made to feel unsafe and unwelcome at their home institutions. At Mizzou in particular, threats of violence against students of color have prevented them from attending classes, taking their exams and generally being able to receive the education they are there for. This should not happen at a place students should be able to consider a second home.
This weekend’s rough physical altercation between a Department of Public Safety officer and Geovanni Cuevas, a Dartmouth delegate to the Latinx Ivy League Conference hosted at Brown, underscores that our campus suffers from the same underlying issues and reinforces that this campus presents inherently different realities for students of color. During Friday’s “Blackout” on the Quiet Green, students voiced their frustrations at the racist language used and actions perpetrated at Brown. Black Residential Peer Leaders described hate speech smeared on dorm walls, and students of color spoke of being eyed with wariness and followed at night. These individual incidents go unchecked and accumulate until large-scale, more public debacles like this weekend’s force the administration to listen to the pain felt by students of color. The disconnect between the personal sense of safety and mental well-being students of color are not afforded and the administration’s level of urgency in taking action on these issues came into stark contrast this weekend, when outrage over this weekend’s incident was swift and impassioned.
We thank students of color for their bravery and courage in telling their stories and confronting those in positions of power with the pain they are feeling. Those conversations are necessary dialogue, and the exhaustion and pain marginalized students have described as a result of their energetic activism place a disproportionate burden on the students of color leading these efforts to make Brown a more just and inclusive place.
We also commend President Christina Paxson’s P’19 swift response, especially in comparison to the inaction of other Ivy League presidents on issues of institutional racism. Saturday night, within 24 hours of the incident, Paxson sent a community-wide email detailing the immediate actions she is taking. These measures — including funding a rescheduled Latinx Ivy League Conference so that all participants can attend for free and sending a formal letter of apology to the other Ivy League presidents for what transpired — meet two key demands made by protestors. The creation of more regular dialogue on issues of race between Paxson and students, organized by the Brown Center for Students of Color, is also a step in the right direction.
Nonetheless, there is more work to be done, and this weekend’s events raise difficult questions. The first among them is whether DPS officers receive sufficient training on race, diversity and sensitivity. All officers currently undergo annual diversity training, but Paxson wrote in her email that the administration will look into the possibility of expanding that training. The release of the University’s Diversity Action Plan later this month also has the potential to be a key driver of change, so the steps it outlines will be crucial in assessing the University’s progress on addressing institutional racism.
The experiences of students of color at Brown are disturbingly similar to those more widely publicized at Mizzou and Yale. As a community, we must push forward until, in Paxson’s words, “it is irrefutable from our actions and our deeds that students of color are valued members of our community.”
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Emma Axelrod ’18, Eben Blake ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.