Schools Struggle To Make Campuses Racially Equitable, Shows Smith College Controversy

Nikki Attkisson | Last Updated : March 4, 2021

In 2018, on a summer day, a student read a book and had her lunch. She used the Smith College’s residential hall, which required key card access. She had been in a program teaching students in the summer; she could access it.

Schools Struggle To Make Campuses Racially Equitable, Shows Smith College Controversy

This simple moment got national attention within minutes. An employee reported of seeing a black person behaving suspiciously. The police came to the campus, and the officer informed her of the situation. She reported the incident on a social networking platform. It was the year when “living while black” incidents were frequent. The school faced strong backlash and declared an investigation into the matter. The school appointed a commission. Its probe did not find any evidence of discrimination against her because of her color. Another such incident happened on the campus last week that reminded of the incident of 2018.

Schools Struggle To Make Campuses Racially Equitable, Shows Smith College Controversy

On February 19th, an employee resigned, accusing the school of creating a racially hostile environment for white people. Certain employees in the college complain that the school apologizes for any complaint with regard to race without checking facts. Some even feel uncomfortable with the anti-bias training they were offered. It made them feel that they are accused of being racist. The incident that took place in the college is just one among several such instances that happened over the years. And these highlights the hard time schools are facing in their attempts to make them racially equitable.

Educational institutions like Yale University to have handled such issues, and they promise to take initiatives to address the concerns.

Schools are striving to address the instances of bias on campuses. But, proving negative intentions is quite tough in complaints of racial bias.

There is widespread implicit stereotyping. Here, we expect such students to behave in a particular manner. This is often linked with micro-aggression. And proving this subtle type of aggression is not that easy. Studies also show that certain white people respond negatively to the type of anti-bias training schools generally offer.

Such training does create awareness. But it does not provide tools to correct the issues. This makes certain white people anxious. And they respond negatively.

The last week’s incident shows the need for a systematic equality approach.

The “see something, say something” policy often requires dispatchers to send the police to the scene. This happens even when there is no suspicion of a crime.

Experts recommend that colleges should allow the dispatchers to check facts before deciding to send an officer. Sometimes, a student life expert or a residential assistant may be enough to address the issue.

Schools deploy diverse strategies to address bias on campus. Making policy changes, hiring staff from diverse backgrounds, and anti-bias training are just a few among them. A news channel asked Smith College about such training in place there. The authorities directed it to a letter the college addressed to is students. It denied racial hostilities against its former employee and said that its aim is to encourage authentic conversations to eliminate barriers.

Addressing racial bias involves checking the instances everyone has inadvertently absorbed certain traits that create a discrimination-based atmosphere. Everyone has to accept the uncomfortable fact that they have unknowingly absorbed certain biases and act in such a way as to create discrimination. This kind of self-analysis is a must to make any progress in this direction, they say.

The college even has a bias-response team. It keeps track of all such incidents and the responses to them.

Certain universities address the issue through reforms in policies through recommendations from their community. According to an expert, accepting the fact that racism is there itself is the first step towards eliminating the same.

Nikki Attkisson

With over 15 years as a practicing journalist, Nikki Attkisson found herself at Powdersville Post now after working at several other publications. She is an award-winning journalist with an entrepreneurial spirit and worked as a journalist covering technology, innovation, environmental issues, politics, health etc. Nikki Attkisson has also worked on product development, content strategy, and editorial management for numerous media companies. She began her career at local news stations and worked as a reporter in national newspapers.

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