As Racist Acts Continue on Campuses, Some Look for Answers

James Meredith statue

As Racist Acts Continue on Campuses, Some Look for Answers

With the large number of racist incidents on American college campuses, many are looking for reasons.

Published March 4, 2014

The ledger of racist incidents on college campuses around the country seemed to be growing. From UCLA to San Jose State University and from Arizona State University to Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, there seems to be an increase in racist acts.

In just the last few months, several white students were suspended by their fraternity at the University of Mississippi for tying a noose around a statue of James Meredith, the man who integrated the school in 1962.

And just a few days after the nation celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., officials of Arizona State University were forced to expel a fraternity from campus after it held a party that featured racial and insulting behavior.

To hear academic experts and students tell it, these incidents are a reflection of increased tension regarding resentment over issues ranging from affirmative action to the pressure to develop and enhance Black studies programs.

"To a large degree, these incidents go back to the election of Barack Obama in 2008 when there were several campus incidents, many of them heavily racialized," said James B. Peterson, director of Africana Studies and professor of English at Lehigh University, in an interview with

"There was a reaction from some students about having a Black president, which is woefully sad, given this president’s aversion to discuss race," Peterson said. "His election provoked major racial anxiety and the expression of racial hatred in some quarters."

Peterson added that there were strong feelings among some white students regarding university-sponsored efforts to increase diversity.

"There are students who reject anything they see as affirmative action, or as they put it, reverse racism," he said. "And they respond by wearing blackface or tying a noose around a statue of James Meredith. It's unfortunate."

Scott Grant, a student at Lehigh University, said that the tension is fueled by the fact that a number of white students have little to no experience in diverse settings.

At Lehigh, a series of on-campus racial incidents led to an investigation by the United States Department of Education. The tension came to a head a few months ago when a multicultural dormitory known as the Umoja House was vandalized by students who threw eggs and wrote racial epithets in graffiti.

"A lot of students come here and they haven't grown up seeing other cultures and they don't interact," said Grant, a member of the university's Cultural Board of Student Organizations, in an interview with

"And when they come to schools like this one, they explore and they test boundaries," he said. "And when they get results that make them feel they can get away with racist statements and action, they continue to engage in them. Often, the institution or their peers don't reinforce the fact that what they are doing is wrong."

He added: "It doesn't make sense to prepare the next generation of leaders and for universities not take a firm stand against racism and sexism.”

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(photo: Commercial Appeal/Dave Darnell /Landov)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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