What Sorts of Places Should Our Universities Be? Structural Questions for Today’s Campus Protests

By Mark Naison (November 16, 2015)

Amidst all the campus protests that have taken place in the last three weeks, an important issue that is structural, as well as ideological, has to be addressed- what are the role of universities in a nation which is becoming more unequal, not only by race, but by class, and where wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top?

Are universities places which consolidate existing social hierarchies or reduce them? For students who come from communities where people feel beaten down, marginalized and trapped, the answer to these questions shape their ability to feel an integral part of the university community almost as much as the attitudes of fellow students and faculty. What happens outside university gates has a powerful influence on what occurs inside them. Even at places like Fordham, where the gates are quite high.

Let me state, for the record, that I am deeply suspicious of mandatory “Undoing Racism” training for faculty, students and administrators, as that substitutes a theraputic model of institutional transformation for the hard work of hiring more faculty of color and shifting around scholarship funds, and lowering tuition to bring more students of color and working class students to campus. It has also been my experience that such mandatory sessions do not convert or transform people who are not already predisposed to identify with marginalized populations and may actually make them more bitter and cynical.

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