Student organizers at Hampshire College called off an appearance by the band Shokazoba amid complaints that the band was "too white" to play Afrobeat music, The Republican reported. Band members are angry, saying that they were falsely accused of being all-white, and that it should be possible for music to be judged on artistic value, not just the race of some of the musicians. The student committee that organized the event posted this note on its Facebook page: "Due to concerned students voicing their opinions about the band Shokazoba, we held community dialogue to hear what individuals had to say. As a result of the dialogue, and discomfort expressed by members of the community in person as well as by email, Facebook, and other means, we have removed Shokazoba from the lineup for Hampshire Halloween."
Many of the comments posted there are critical of the students for uninviting the band. One person wrote: "You know, it's not like these guys run around during their performances wearing dashikis, greeting the audience with a hearty meeng-gah-bou at the start of their set. These are just people who love a certain type of music and are sharing that enjoyment." Another wrote: "This is, without equivocation, one of the most ironically racist decisions I have ever witnessed a group of supposedly educated people come to. The fact that the irony is lost on you makes me believe that maybe that education was wasted. Stupid decision, and every one of you who was party to it should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves."
The college has issued a statement denying that racial issues were at play, and saying instead that the band was dropped because of the rising tensions over the discussion. "On an online event site, some members of our student community questioned the selection of one band, asking whether it was a predominantly white Afrobeat band and expressing concerns about cultural appropriation and the need to respect marginalized cultures. The students tried to be clear that they meant no disrespect to the members of the band in question, but wished to raise larger questions and have a deeper conversation within our own community," said the college's statement. "The decision by student planners not to have the band perform was not based on the band’s racial identity. It was based on the intensity and tone that arose on the event’s planning site on social media, including comments from off campus that became increasingly aggressive, moving from responses to individual student voices to rude, and at times unsettling, remarks. Tensions grew and students felt they were being unfairly characterized and disparaged."
At Baylor, student government wants to ban "deviate" sex instead of "homosexual acts," and says this would make gay students more welcome. At Creighton, Catholic student group wants to end ticket give-aways for concert by singers who created "Same Love."
Just about every year, Halloween brings campus disputes over costumes built around ethnic or racial stereotypes. Several universities this year are trying -- in advance of Halloween -- to discourage offensive costumes. The University of Colorado at Boulder has put posters up on campus that show members of different racial and ethnic groups -- and some of the stereotypes that have been the basis of costumes. The tag line for the posters: "You wear the costume for one night. I wear the stigma for life." The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities sent a letter to students urging them to avoid costumes that perpetuate stereotypes, The Star Tribune reported.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and advocates for the continued use of the "Chief Illinwek" mascot have worked out a deal, The Chicago Tribune reported. The university stopped using the chief officially in 2007, with the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Native American groups objecting to Indian symbols used for athletics events in ways that promote stereotypes. But some alumni have refused to give up the use. In the deal, the university will not object to the group's use of Chief Illiniwek. But the group will not suggest that the chief is coming back, and will make clear that its activities are not endorsed or approved by the university.
The football program at historically black Grambling State University has seen better days. After all, Grambling was where Eddie Robinson became the winningest coach in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I history. Grambling is also where Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams and more than 100 other former and current National Football League players spent their collegiate years.
Today, however, the Grambling football program is in the midst of a mutiny. Players are fed up with deplorable working (yes, working) conditions, and their complaints, if true, describe an athletic program not only unable to provide basic accommodations, but one that is likely breaking the law. Players describe mold and mildew in the locker rooms, unsafe workout equipment, and uncut grass on the practice field. They also complain of having to buy their own Gatorade and taking bus trips to far-flung away games, one totaling 1,500 miles round-trip. But most damning is a charge that “several players” have contracted staph infections because of poorly cleaned uniforms.
As a result, players have flat-out refused to practice or attend team meetings, and, this past weekend, they refused to play rival Jackson State University. It was the first regular season forfeiture in the history of the Southwestern Athletic Conference — made worse by the fact that it was Jackson’s homecoming. And in the midst of it all, two coaches, including Williams, have been fired in a span of five weeks amid squabbles and power struggles with upper administration.
For years, Grambling, like many other colleges and universities, has poured millions of dollars from its operating budget to support its under-resourced athletic program. This is in the face of other glaring needs, like student aid. The roughly $3 million that Grambling has sunk into its athletic program each year could fund more than 500 full scholarships, a much better use for a university where 82 percent of full-time students qualify for Pell Grants. In addition, Grambling has seen its state funding decline from almost $32 million in 2008 to about $19 million in 2012.
The stunning fall of the once-vaunted Grambling football program is about more than Grambling. Colleges all over the country are sponsoring athletics they simply cannot afford, and many of them are doing so amid shameful cuts in state higher education funding. The urge to do so is particularly strong among historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) that were once the nation’s football powerhouses.
Prior to integration, the nation’s top black players attended HBCUs. With alumni like Deacon Jones, Walter Peyton and Jerry Rice, HBCUs have been training grounds for the some of the best players in NFL history. These programs also boasted some of college football’s greatest coaches. When Joe Paterno passed Eddie Robinson on the all-time wins list (a distinction later stripped as part of the NCAA’s Sandusky sanction), he acknowledged Robinson and Florida A&M’s Jake Gaither as “two of the greatest people we’ve ever had in college football.”
It is the tireless longing for a return to the glory years that drives the importance that HBCUs place on athletics, especially football. Unlike colleges that see football as merely a means of garnering publicity and attracting students, HBCUs often see football as an essential link to their history and greatness.
There was a time when propping up these programs with operational funds provided a convincing façade of stability. But declining revenue trends and a burgeoning movement of athlete activism have rendered accounting tricks less effective at shielding the harsh realities of athletic profligacy. Grambling is the most shocking example of these realities, but it is not the only HBCU, or college, in general, struggling to keep its athletic program afloat.
Last month, ESPN introduced a highlight feature warning, “This next part of SportsCenter may be unsuitable for some.” The tongue-in-cheek heads-up referenced three of the weekend’s games in which HBCUs got outscored 207-13. Each was playing in a so-called "guarantee game" — one in which it faced a “guaranteed” humiliating defeat in return for an appearance fee. That weekend, Bethune-Cookman University received $450,000 to get manhandled by Florida State University 54-6; Florida A&M University received $900,000 to get walloped by Ohio State 76-0; and Savannah State received $375,000 from the University of Miami to get trounced 77-7.
For many under-resourced colleges, guarantee games have become the preferred means of generating quick revenue. Florida A&M’s most recent athletic budget lists these games as the second largest source of revenue. But these games come with a price, as they feed into perceptions of HBCU inferiority and put players in the role of sacrificial lambs. Guarantee games have become such an embarrassment for all involved that the Big Ten is discouraging them, and there are rumblings that other conferences will follow suit. So there is hope that this perverse gravy train will soon end.
In order to survive, under-resourced colleges must adopt substantive reforms that transcend short-term stopgaps. One of the most significant reforms would be leaving Division I for Division II. Such a drop would be a considered an insult at many institutions, but it could be a particularly attractive and necessary option for HBCUs.
Division I sports, even at the second-tier Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level at which HBCUs play, are expensive. FCS schools are required to sponsor at least 14 varsity sports. The vast majority of these sports will net no revenue. It should be no surprise that no FCS athletic program, HBCU or not, turns a profit — and the programs that break even do so only after large institutional subsidies as high as 90 percent. In 2010, the median revenue for FCS institutions was $3.3 million against expenses of more than $13 million.
On the Division II level, the median expenses for football colleges and universities are about $5 million — less than half the FCS median. Colleges are only required to sponsor 10 sports. The downside of Division II sports, however, is on the revenue side, with the median being only $624,000. But low revenue is not destiny. HBCUs would bring to Division II uncommonly strong fan bases.
There are 10 HBCUs at the FCS level with average attendance that would place them in the top 5 among Division II football programs; others, including Grambling, would be in the top 10. The roots of strong HBCU fan support already exist at the Division II level. Six of the top 10 Division II teams in average attendance are HBCUs, and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which is made up of HBCUs, is by far the top conference in attendance.
Given their cloistered conference alignments, Division I HBCUs tend to play each other, a routine that has fostered strong rivalries. And if they joined their Division II counterparts, historic rivalries could be rekindled. Florida A&M and Division II Tuskegee University enjoyed a passionate rivalry dating back to 1941, but have not played since 1996 because of restrictions on out-of-division games. The same divisional politics ended the yearly tilt between archrivals North Carolina A&T and Winston-Salem State University (WSSU).
In 2009, WSSU became the first school in NCAA history to return to Division II after beginning the transition up to Division I. Citing "no rational way" of funding the transition, university officials aborted the plan after four years. Three years later, WSSU played in the Division II national championship game and was able to balance its athletics budget, even though it is contending with state disinvestment and still paying down deficits from its Division I foray. WSSU is ranked 16th in attendance, so while the move back down to Division II may have disappointed some, its fans have not abandoned the program.
With the likelihood of above-average game attendance, HBCUs would likely generate above average revenue at the Division II level. But even if HBCUs only experience typical Division II outcomes, there would still be less red ink to clear than if they remained at the FCS level. It is for these reasons that HBCUs must, en masse, abandon Division I profligacy for Division II sustainability.
Aaron N. Taylor is a professor at Saint Louis University School of Law. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheEdLawProf.
City College of the City University of New York has shut down the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Student and Community Center, a small physical space that was the center for student activism, and turned it into an annex for career services at the college, The New York Times reported. While the center is much loved by some activist groups, it has been criticized for years by others. It is named for two City College alumni who fled the United States for Cuba -- the former one of the organizers of a Puerto Rican independence group that claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing and the latter a member of the Black Liberation Army who was convicted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey trooper.
City College officials said that the closing was based on space needs, not politics. But students are organizing protects and calling the move an attempt to squelch student activism. A Facebook page created to defend the room and its programs calls the center "the only liberated space in CUNY."
Many minority faculty members at the University of California at Los Angeles feel that they encounter bias and insensitivity regularly, and that the university is not necessarily committed to resolving their concerns, says a report released by the university last week. The report was prepared by Carlos Moreno, a former justice of the California Supreme Court, who was assisted by lawyers so that minority faculty members could discuss their concerns without fear of hurting their careers. The report says that "we found widespread concern among faculty members that the racial climate at UCLA had deteriorated over time, and that the university’s policies and procedures are inadequate to respond to reports of incidents of bias and discrimination. Our investigation found that the relevant university policies were vague, the remedial procedures difficult to access, and from a practical standpoint, essentially nonexistent."
Gene D. Block, chancellor at UCLA, announced in response to the report the creation of a new position, a full-time discrimination officer, and he pledged further policies to make UCLA welcoming for all professors. "Our campus can and must do a better job of responding to faculty reports of racial and ethnic bias and discrimination and take steps to prevent such incidents from ever occurring," said Block in an e-mail message to the campus. "It is one thing to talk about our commitment to diversity and creating a welcoming campus; it is quite another to live up to those ideals. Rhetoric is no substitute for action. We must set an example for our students. We cannot tolerate bias, in any form, at UCLA. I sincerely regret any occasions in the past in which we have fallen short of our responsibility."
With yet another affirmative action case reaching the Supreme Court just months after the last decision, and with that previous decision likely to produce multiple local challenges to admissions procedures at selective colleges across the country, we might ask whether the courts are the best place to settle this divisive issue of racial preferences.
The Grutter judgment of 2003 didn’t lower the controversy, and neither did the Fisher judgment of 2013, and the upcoming Schuette case won’t, either. People on both sides don’t just disagree. They bring a passionate sense of fairness to the debate that puts the opposition on the side of unfairness. Whichever side loses each skirmish in the issue doesn’t only feel defeated -- it feels wronged, and that inspires only further legal action.
Instead of having lawyers and judges determine the future of racial preferences, perhaps we should appeal to the group affected by them most: college applicants. They have usually been the plaintiffs in cases over the years, and outcomes have turned on data relative to admitted students, so why not ask them to address the controversy? In fact, they have the power to resolve the issue entirely, to everyone’s satisfaction, and they can do it voluntarily and on principle.
The strategem is simple. The 2012 American Freshman Survey reports that 30 percent of first-year college students are “Liberal” or “Far Left,” while nearly half of them declare themselves “Middle-of-the-Road” (47.5 percent). I assume that all the liberal or left students favor racial preferences in college admissions and half of the moderates do. Over all, white students make up 70 percent of the entire first-year student population. This yields a significant portion of white college students who endorse the policy, perhaps one-quarter to one-third of the overall student population. After all, when the American Freshman Survey posed to respondents the assertion, “Racial discrimination is no longer a major problem in America,” only 23 percent agreed.
What would happen if all those white students who assert that racism is still a “major problem” and who approve of affirmative action as one remedy followed their beliefs and did not apply to selective colleges such as Williams, Wesleyan, Boulder and U.Va.? How would that alter the demographics of elite campuses?
The admissions offices at those schools would face a less-competitive white applicant pool and could boost minority acceptances. Thousands of white students with eight AP courses, a 4.0+ GPA, and 95th-percentile SAT scores would not join the mix and raise the averages.
Given their strong support of racial diversity, the schools would rejoice at not having to engage in dicey racial engineering, and students themselves would act on their convictions. If they espouse diversity, they won’t attend colleges with low African American and Hispanic make-ups. Wesleyan University reports that only 7 percent of the student body is “Black or African American," NYU only 4.3 percent. Dartmouth is 8.75 percent Hispanic/Latino,Duke 6.6 percent. Liberal white students (and liberal white parents) should shun them until the ratio matches up with the general population.
Nobody would object and the debate would end. Liberals would support it because it delivers the revered goal of racial diversity, while conservatives would approve because it comes from individual initiative, not state mandate.
Conservative white students may still apply where they wish, and though liberals may accuse them of hindering racial justice, conservatives may reply, “You have behaved consistently with your beliefs -- let me do the same.” In but a few years, the college campus would no longer be a legal battle zone or a hive of racial resentments.
It sounds altogether unrealistic, of course, given the magical prestige of the words Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, et al.
For many people, applying elsewhere means giving up a legacy, forgoing an ambition, perhaps sacrificing a better future. That’s true, but increasingly to a lesser extent, critics now arguing that the cachet of elite institutions is overdone and that their price tag is inflated.
Employers today rely less on G.P.A. and institution and more on interviews and internships when making hiring decisions.
Not only that, but we shouldn’t ignore the hypocrisy of advancing a racially diverse society through affirmative action mechanisms, while refusing to participate in it on one’s own. If racial diversity in elite spaces is so important, does an individual who might get into Williams but goes to UMass-Boston look like a disappointment?
Mark Bauerlein is professor of English at Emory University.