In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, the UNC Board of Governors assembled a task force to address racial disparities across the UNC System. This task force conducted a system-wide survey on the experiences of students, faculty and staff as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. The report for this was released on Jan. 20, 2021. What they found is that BIPOC students and faculty do not feel as though they are represented in campus communities or leadership, and that accountability for those who jeopardize inclusivity efforts is nowhere to be found. To address this, the task force proposed strategies for better integrating our communities, such as recruiting more BIPOC members of leadership, addressing campus police issues, and strengthening mental health services and outreach.
This is all well and good, but is it enough to really alter our campus culture for the better? In short, it’s a start.
It’s exciting to imagine a more diverse campus whose leadership is composed of people that BIPOC students can identify with. It’s exciting to imagine a campus where the faculty that lectures on diversity is diverse itself. Even more exciting is the idea of a campus free of student harassment at the hands of police and staff. But this is not yet a reality.
The current composition of the faculty, student body and administration at NC State is overwhelmingly white. BIPOC students literally cannot see themselves represented at our university, no matter how many themed events are hosted on campus to make them feel included. We may receive new diversity training modules to complete as a graduation requirement, and we may read a nicely written message from the chancellor on why Black history matters during the month of February, but these things are mere Band-Aids on the issues at hand.
The reality is that hostility towards people of color is sometimes much quieter than we conceive it to be. That’s what makes it persist in the face of institutional efforts to inject ideas of inclusivity in the campus community. We can always improve on education, accountability, and diversification to address the big problems, like the whitewashing of history, police brutality and underrepresentation in academic settings. These are the things that we as a people are equipped to protest and the University, as a historical oppressor of minorities, is equipped to fix.
But who is equipped to resolve the even more deeply-rooted, hushed tones of hostility that happen behind closed doors, out of the earshot of those it offends?
This is the virus that infects much of the community that BIPOC students have trouble feeling a part of. It’s there at the weekend parties, where not a single person of color is present. It’s there in the jokes made in closed settings that require an all-white audience in order to be funny. It’s what drives one to swipe left on a dark-skinned person who’s “not their type,” and it’s in all the “devil’s advocates” that chime in during class discussions.
The responsibility for fighting off this kind of hate is both in the hands of the institution and those it governs. Moving forward, we need to start recognizing racist environments when we’re in them, and our administration needs to be more consistent in its intolerance of these environments. No amount of policy changes can work where failure in those areas exist.