Sit-in triggered by social media comments

Lack of diversity and intolerance of minorities are disputed by groups of students at Colgate University, New York State

October 2, 2014

A sit-in at Colgate University in New York, which organisers said was to protest against the institution’s lack of diversity and the alleged treatment of minority students, began after anonymous comments were posted on Yik Yak, a social networking app popular with college students.

According to Inside Higher Ed, more than 300 students participated in the protest, which took place inside Colgate’s admissions building, and began on 22 September. The action, which was still continuing four days later, was led by the Colgate University Association of Critical Collegians (ACC), a group of students “working to ensure that the university reflects the ideals its mission statement claims”. The group used its Tumblr micro-blogging page to post pictures and stories from the scene.

Among the posts is an “Action Plan” for the university to follow in order to improve the situation. Suggestions include: engaging admissions staff in sustained diversity; ensuring that all admissions tours address issues of diversity more fully; and the creation of formal assessments of admissions processes to determine the efficacy and inclusivity of admissions programmes and protocols.

“We understand that the work of creating a culture of inclusivity is difficult work that is still very much in process [sic],” the plan says.

One of the “milder” Yik Yak comments, published by Inside Higher Ed, reads: “I chose Colgate for the lack of it’s [sic] diversity…I knew the statistics. It’s not my fault you didn’t read the fine print.”

In a statement, the ACC said the demonstration aimed to raise awareness about what it termed these “microaggressions” endured by minority students. “In order to obtain a complete liberal arts education, one must learn and be aware of different identity politics,” the group says in a statement published on an online petition calling for support for the sit-in. “Colgate University, at this moment, has insufficient methods to address equity and inclusivity,” the statement claims.

The two campaign hashtags, #CanYouHearUsNow and #SoThisIsColgate, attracted thousands of tweets.

“I want to be PROUD of my school, not ashamed by the ignorance of students like this,” tweeted one student, Rachel Drucker (@thatsdruckedup), along with a picture of a racist message on Yik Yak.

Other universities also showed their support. “I’m proud of the Colgate students protesting racism on campus with a 35+ hour sit-in,” said Roopika Risam (@roopikarisam), assistant professor of world literature and English education at Salem State University.

A statement from Colgate University said it supported students’ “peaceful” calls for a welcoming and supportive campus environment, and said university staff had met “for many hours” with ACC representatives after the sit-in began.

University president Jeffrey Herbst said: “Bias incidents and racism, while not unique to Colgate, are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. They have no place on a college campus, and they have no place at Colgate. We have heard you, and we will join you in the common goal of creating a campus environment that is welcoming and supportive of all of our students.”

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tesglobal.com

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