North Carolina State University has gone to great lengths to gauge its “racial climate.” But how worthwhile is this activity, really?
In the late 1990s, the university’s administration toiled away on the “Diversity Initiative,” an ambitious project with a fatal flaw. The flaw is spelled out in its “Institutional Climate” section, which states that “All members of the N.C. State community should believe that they are members of a supportive working and learning environment” (emphasis added). The plan notes that (emphasis added) “Surveys of the N.C. State community indicate that women and people of color at N.C. State feel considerably less support than do white males” and “Some women and people of color report feeling marginalized, treated with disrespect, and unwelcome in many ways.”
There is talk now that N.C. State will conduct another survey to judge its racial climate, and it is reasonable to expect it to find similar results to the one conducted for the Diversity Initiative. It will face the same insurmountable problem, too — feelings are not fact, so the mere fact that minorities feel less support on campus doesn’t make it so.
Considering all the services the university offers primarily if not exclusively for minority students, and they are legion, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that some (not all — but enough to register a difference in a survey) minority students are simply oversensitive, quick to feel marginalization, disrespect, lack of support or welcome, and other slights.
A most recent example in support of this possibility is the “Speak Out Against Racism” rally held in N.C. State’s Brickyard April 15. The occasion was to garner support for Najja Baptist, the student who was told to “go back to Africa” by a white student subjected to his pre-class fulminations against America. Even though the professor immediately cut off their argument and called for more civilized discussion, the demonstrators agreed he should have denounced the girl as racist on the spot or even later, and since he didn’t, that was indicative of N.C. State’s bad racial climate.
At the rally, crowd members were enjoined to “talk about your experiences with racial injustice,” and the stories they told were themselves indicative of N.C. State’s problem, though in the way neither the demonstrators would want nor administrators would admit.
One student told of walking down the street at night near apartments that had just been robbed. The only description of the suspect police had was that of a “black male” — and so public safety interrogated this student “for 10 minutes,” shining a flashlight at him. He said he complained later about it, but it was never addressed.
Another student told of a high school teacher asked if he was still home. When he told her no, he was at N.C. State, he said she gave him “a disturbed look” and wondered if the community college would “take him back..” “I know deep inside what she was saying,” he said, which was that he’s black, he doesn’t deserve to be at N.C. State.
Also speaking was Dr. M. Iyailu Moses, director of the African-American Cultural Center at N.C. State. She, too, had a story of racial injustice — from “20 years ago.” Moses’ experience was a “classroom incident”; as she explained, she received an 89 on a paper while a white woman sitting next to her received a 93 (the cutoff for an A was a 90). Moses said she was an English major and later taught English, so she could write, and on this paper she didn’t receive any comments, but the white woman’s paper was lined with them.
“I would submit some of the same things are happening on this very campus right now,” Moses said. She later led the crowd in singing a song with the lyrics: “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes” (repeated a few times) followed by “Until the killing of black men, brothers and sons, is important / As the killing of white men, brothers and sons.”
The rest of the students and faculty speaking at that event didn’t have an incident of racial injustice of their own, but they were strongly convinced that the racial climate at N.C. State was really bad. They urged their fellows, “Don’t let other people silence your voice!” They said everyone should know the “reality of what is happening here at this university.” One even said that white people weren’t the ones holding black students down on campus, but the majority of black students who weren’t speaking out and taking action against the bad racial climate — whom she called “house slaves” (by far the most egregious example of disrespect to N.C. State minority students produced at the rally, ironically committed by one of the demonstrators).
One even said that “Feb. 19 [the date of the Baptist incident] should have the same significance as 9-11.”
Another faculty member, Dr. Floyd Hayes, associate professor of multidisciplinary studies, decried N.C. State’s “institutional racism” and said, “We must stand tall and demand racial justice.”
Racial justice for what? They’re short on actual facts, when even a voluntary demonstration ostensibly designed to list incidents of racial injustices produced only four, all of which were really examples of racial hypersensitivity, only two of which related to N.C. State, and one of which was from two decades prior. But every last person there at the rally felt very strongly that the racial climate at N.C. State needed fixing, and fast — and the faculty members in attendance were readily prepared to encourage those hurt and angry feelings.