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Students protest racist social media posts and discrimination at Colgate University, 2014
On 22 September 2014, almost 300 students, led by the Colgate University Association of Critical Collegians (ACC), a student-led organization fighting to create a culture of inclusivity at Colgate, University, staged a 100-hour campus sit-in in front of the school’s admissions building to protest what one observer described as the discriminatory “treatment of minority students on campus and the university’s lack of diversity.” The sit-in was sparked by bigoted comments made on the anonymous social media app Yik-Yak. A few of the controversial “Yak’s” include “White people won life, Africa lost, sorry we were so much better than you that we were literally able to enslave you to our will” and “I chose Colgate for the lack of it’s diversity. I knew the statistics. It’s not my fault you didn’t read the fine print.” Students promoted the protest on social media outlets with the hashtags #CanYouHearUsNow and #ThisIsColgate. The demonstration was meant to raise awareness on discriminatory treatment on minority students on the predominantly white campus and to push the administration to improve diversity for the university. With a nearly 70 percent white undergraduate population, Colgate has been criticized in the past for its lack of diversity. In 2001, almost 70 students staged a similar sit-in protesting the University’s lack of diversity. Like the 2014 sit-in, student were enraged at racially insensitive messages made by members of the community.
The ACC began publishing student testimonials made by Colgate students on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube. Posing with a poster on the ACC instagram page, one student declared that she participated in the sit-in “because we all deserve to feel at home @Colgate #CanYouHearUsNow.” Another stated that “no one deserves to feel less than human or to cry the tears that I’ve seen. So I’m here for myself, my brothers, my sisters, and all future generations #CanYouHearUsNow.”
On 26 September 2014, the ACC provided the university with a list of 21 actions they felt the university should take. In the document, the ACC addressed the Colgate Community, calling everyone to stand together in representing Colgate’s mission to be “an inclusive institution with diverse students and faculty” that “encourages interpersonal exploration expands mutual understanding, and supports a broadened perspective within a caring, humane community.” Requests to the administration included reforms in Colgate’s administration process, financial aid system, faculty and their engagement with the curriculum, and issues addressing student life. (See http://colgateacc.tumblr.com/post/98145166410/petiition-of-concerns-action-plan">https://web.archive.org/web/20150405052422/http://colgateacc.tumblr.com/post/98145166410/petiition-of-concerns-action-plan) For example, the ACC demanded that admissions staff, ambassadors, and tour guides receive diversity training, that a “free and safe transport system to and from Syracuse” be created, and that the explicit study of systemic power inequities be added to the core curriculum at Colgate University, among many other items. Sydni Bond, a Colgate student and a spokesperson for the ACC, told reporters that “until those action plans are met, we will pursue our sit-in here at the Hurwitz Office of Admission building.”
Jeffrey Herbst, Colgate’s president, and Scott Brown, the university’s dean of students, were both receptive to the sit-in and student testimonials. Herbst assured demonstrators that “candid conversation between us would be critical to develop a constructive resolution to the sit-in.” Herbst also condemned the “appalling anonymous social media posts” and asserted that “acts of racism and homophobia have no place at Colgate and will not be tolerated.”
School officials responded by engaging in discussions with ACC representatives in order to discuss their concerns. On Wednesday, three days after the start of the sit-in, Herbst presented a written response directly to students. In his message, Herbst expressed admiration of the students conducting the sit-in and pledged that Colgate was devoted to making change. However, the message was met with disappointment with one ACC member exclaiming, “The administration gave us a vague response to the action plans.”
Five days after the beginning of the student sit-in, the Colgate administration released a detailed plan responding directly to each of the ACC’s 21 requests. Called the “roadmap to the future,” the plan listed 21 goals set by the administration to “begin the work of making Colgate a more inclusive and welcoming campus for all students.” A few of the plan’s main points included installing security cameras on campus buses, revising hiring practices in order to diversify faculty, and developing diversity training for admissions and financial aid staff.
Colgate lists each of the 21 points in the original action plan on its website along with the current status update. (See http://www.colgate.edu/campus-life/diversity-and-inclusion/colgate-for-all">https://web.archive.org/web/20150914151155/http://www.colgate.edu/campus-life/diversity-and-inclusion/colgate-for-all) Last updated on 29 June, 2015, Colgate claims that they succeeded in accomplishing the goals they set forth. However, the ACC’s key request to require faculty to go through diversity training was rejected. Instead, the administration kept the trainings voluntary but made the sessions more structured and accessible to faculty.