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Racism still exists, Strides being made

Column by Selchia Cain

Cain is a sophomore public relations and magazines major and can be reached at selchia.cain@drake.edu

Selchia Cain-w2000-h2000Every year, to prepare for Drake University’s oldest tradition, the painted street is white-washed. Erasing the artwork, but never the memories from the years past. As Drake students, making memories on the painted street is just as important as creating the memory of graduation.

But memorable moments on the painted street are not solely limited to the Drake Relays’ tradition. The sidewalk paved with art is also closely connected to Drake’s awkward racial atmosphere. Last year, it was the scene of an incident that disrupted the racial climate of our campus.

For those who don’t remember, or those who weren’t here, I’ll briefly recap what happened. One night, a group of African-American students was walking down the painted street after attending a performance at the Fine Arts Center. Out of the blue, “Get off our campus. We don’t want you on our campus. We don’t like (expletive),” was shouted at them from a Jewett Hall window. The rest of the details on what was said never truly came to light. Nor were the people who shouted those remarks ever identified. But, nevertheless, this obviously sparked a racial upset among the African-American students.

We refused to allow the incident on painted street that night to go unaddressed.  In late March, President Maxwell drafted a campus wide email encouraging us to sign a petition as a call to action to end  the “presence of racism on our campus.”

The word racism, for some odd reason, seems to make peoples’ palms sweat or cause frowns or arguments of disbelief, as if the talk of racism has become a taboo topic since the end of Jim Crow laws during the 1960s. Many students on Drake’s campus were eager to combat the petition, agreeing that this was an isolated incident. They challenged that this was “part of a broader campus culture that pretends racism no
longer exists.”

But I am the three percent who attends Drake, an 89 percent non-minority campus. I am the black Bulldog. And I’m here to tell you that yes — Drake suffers from a diversity deficit that easily fosters room for racism to grow. And guess what? The petition was a wonderful attempt to create a campus “kumbaya,” but still nothing has changed. Since then, the racial issues on our campus have simply been swept under the rug, only leaving behind these awkward particles in the atmosphere creating
subtle racism.

Please don’t misunderstand me, this isn’t about the three percent that makes the African-American population on campus. This is about everyone who doesn’t identify as being a part of the 89 percent. Drake doesn’t just have black issues, we have a diversity issue.

A few things have changed on the administrative side in hopes of understanding how Drake can better support diverse minorities. The Office of Admissions is scouting to create an authentic pool of future Bulldogs. The Provost Office is conducting a study on the retention rates of Latino and African-American students. But changing the racial atmosphere on campus has to be a grassroots effort starting with the student body.

Students still only seem to be interested in embracing diversity when it’s convenient. Attending programs that dazzle them with food and entertainment. But students rarely show an interest when serious conversations are being had about the white privilege that plagues our campus. True change will only come from students who want to change their racial mentalities. With students who want to explore what little diversity Drake has to offer and who aren’t afraid to have those uncomfortable conversations.

It is almost politically correct to sign a petition to support a cause. Creating programs to encourage multicultural understanding sounds good. The embedded “responsible global citizenship” in our mission statement is great, but we as a campus community need to truly change Drake’s racial climate. We have to understand that diversity is a party that everyone is invited to, but inclusion is a party that
everyone enjoys.


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