This piece was originally posted on The Rapidian, Nov. 23, 2015.
At the national stage, we are seeing student activists stand up and speak about the challenges they are facing within the institutions they occupy. The challenges faced by students of color within post secondary institutions was brought to the forefront of national dialogues on race with the resistance of students at the University of Missouri after their concerns regarding instances of racial bias and aggression were not appropriately handled by university administration. As of this morning, 22 college campuses have formally stood in solidarity with the movement to recognize and addressissues disparately affecting students of color on college campuses across the country. Locally, over 300 Grand Valley State University students joined in a “We Stand with Mizzou” demonstration.
Partners for a Racism-Free Community works with institutions to look at policies and procedures that create inequitable environments where systemic racism is structurally engaged. In addition to our institutional work, we engage locally in developing programs and dialogues to look at the individuals who play a role in navigating those spaces – our #RacisminGR Conversation Series serving as an example of our commitment to that work.
This is what we know: racism prevails when we do not elevate the voices of those disenfranchised by elements of social control. We know that in addition to elevating their voices, listening is quintessential. Through our work, we have seen the promising changes entities are met with when elevating voices and listening is met with taking strategic action.
Today, we do not offer a silver lining – the concerns of the students should be the concerns of us all. We, in publishing this statement, stand in solidarity with their collective action for change. The most meaningful change throughout history began with one voice, underlining an issue and requiring action. These students should be heard and supported – the violence and aggression their pain has been met with only underscores the importance of local communities listening and supporting communities where structural inequity translates to perpetual oppression.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, let us take this opportunity to talk about the tough issues we far too often ignore out of discomfort – to the detriment of our communities. We encourage institutions to engage in local dialogues on these issues; there is never a bad time to start talking about race, racism and equity. We must elevate voices for meaningful and sustainable improvements. Over the last few weeks, students have reminded us that our work is never done. Their courage, is our lesson. The question remains: are we listening and will we take action?
If you are interested in learning about what citizens in Grand Rapids had to say over the last four months of our #RacisminGR Conversation Series, consider attending #RacisminGR Essential Themes and Recommendations for Action on December 15 at 4:30pm at Baxter Community Center.