Why Prioritizing My University’s Best Interests over Mine is Racist

In a time like this, where racial fatigue is very prevalent, especially in primarily white institutions, dismantling racism is a tricky topic. The question is not whether the racism has become intolerable; that has been answered long ago. The question now is where to begin, and where to hit the right place in order to make the biggest impact. I have had a few ideas, but I have been met with people telling me that my goals are too big, that I should aim for something smaller. After the recent events, I have to refute all of these thoughts, and though I may be too optimistic, I have to continue to believe that there is a way to shut down these issues, even though the means to get them may seem more drastic than what people are used to.

On Duke’s university, where the driving force is the men’s basketball team, it has been discouraging to see the divide between the black players and the black students. A lot of the athletes don’t see themselves as athletes, and I don’t judge them for it. They are here on scholarship, have had to sign a bunch of legal papers, and must do the best they can to support themselves after this time in college. They are told that they should not be concerning themselves with politics as to not reflect onto the time, and if they decided to go against these restrictions, they will be released and it will be nearly impossible for them to rebuild.

Yet the issue doesn’t lie within the students themselves, but the flaws of the racist university and the racist rules provided by the NCAA. For some college athletes, they have the ability to capitalize on their talent while in school and simultaneously get there education and stats in college. There are much fewer restrictions for someone wanting to be a professional golfer while in college. But these are not the most involved sports, so they usually aren’t considered in the realm of college athletics. Usually, one thinks of football and basketball as the main sports which bring in revenue. These are the sports where students have more restrictions and are not allowed to profit on their talent as players and must rely on the scholarships that they are giving.

But the sad thing about this situation is that while the students may not be able to capitalize on their talents, the university sure can. The university has the ability to make jerseys and many other paraphernalia for each of the players. The players don’t get any money from this at all, despite them doing the actual leg work. This exploitation has been regulated so that the university can then have the ability to fund their other expenses. College sports are such a big deal because they are the ones who work and bring in the most money to the university. It is in the university’s best interest to then keep these workers satisfied so that they may not revolt. This exploitation is generally seen as acceptable because college sports has such a big following worldwide. But these students, many who come from low-income neighborhoods and must rely on their scholarship, aren’t seeing near as much as they deserve for their help to the university. For Mizzou’s black players to collectively decide not to do what they are supposed to, it threatened the existence of a lot of things on campus, most importantly, the university’s revenue. For their best workers to strike, it was inevitable that the president would have to resign. By no means is this done, but it has moved the university steps forward to make things tolerable for minority students.

This intolerance that students of color is not exclusive to Mizzou. People of color at many of the universities in the country can probably tell you how they have face oppression on campus so that the university may profit. These systems have long been in place, but with the newer generation’s willpower to lean toward more radical means, there have been more grand movements that have been focusing on confronting the issues head on. This activism is not new, but it is evolving along with the changing environments and technologies.

Every college and university has a mission statement of some form that lays out the goals of the institutions. Duke’s looks like this:

James B. Duke’s founding Indenture of Duke University directed the members of the University to ‘provide real leadership in the educational world’ by choosing individuals of ‘outstanding character, ability, and vision’ to serve as its officers, trustees and faculty; by carefully selecting students of ‘character, determination and application;’ and by pursuing those areas of teaching and scholarship that would ‘most help to develop our resources, increase our wisdom, and promote human happiness.’

“To these ends, the mission of Duke University is to provide a superior liberal education to undergraduate students, attending not only to their intellectual growth but also to their development as adults committed to high ethical standards and full participation as leaders in their communities; to prepare future members of the learned professions for lives of skilled and ethical service by providing excellent graduate and professional education; to advance the frontiers of knowledge and contribute boldly to the international community of scholarship; to promote an intellectual environment built on a commitment to free and open inquiry; to help those who suffer, cure disease, and promote health, through sophisticated medical research and thoughtful patient care; to provide wide ranging educational opportunities, on and beyond our campuses, for traditional students, active professionals and life-long learners using the power of information technologies; and to promote a deep appreciation for the range of human difference and potential, a sense of the obligations and rewards of citizenship, and a commitment to learning, freedom and truth.

“By pursuing these objectives with vision and integrity, Duke University seeks to engage the mind, elevate the spirit, and stimulate the best effort of all who are associated with the University; to contribute in diverse ways to the local community, the state, the nation and the world; and to attain and maintain a place of real leadership in all that we do.”

In Duke’s mission statement, they very clearly lay out the intentions of the university to prepare students to be ethical and to help those who suffer, amongst many more goals. Yet, here we have it that the university has been consistently failed to carry out their mission statement to the fullest. These academic institutions are built with the goal of helping develop the minds of students so that they can continue on the legacy of the university. One could argue, then, by that logic, that the university is actually succeeding in carrying on that legacy, as the majority of these universities were founded on the basis of exploiting those who suffer, the very same people the mission statement says they aim to help.

Duke and other colleges and universities aim to bring in the most money through students, alumni, donors, and so forth. Diversity has been the latest trend in the academic system, and as a result, many institutions aim to bring in  people of color- but of course, only just enough, as to not anger their funding sources. These students who are brought to these institutions must then be expected to not only reflect the institution positively, but then make sure that they gained credentials. What makes their experience different from those students who fit into the sphere of whiteness, they must then be expected to navigate the internalized and outright racism that is present at the university. The university was not created with including these students of color, and throughout history, that issue has never been corrected. In addition, when issues do occur as a result, the students of color must be expected to come out of their pain and share their experiences so that it may have the option of being validated by the white students. While seemingly progressive, this implies that the students’ stories must rely on validation of whiteness for a change to be made. The university has long has a history of promoting the need for more diverse views, only to squash these views and sweep them under the rug.

Now the president of Duke wants to hold a discussion in lieu of the movement at Mizzou, but this discussion should have happened awhile ago. This negligence and attempt to cover his tracks and backtrack may seem like a genuine feeling of remorse on the outside, but upon looking in, you come to the realization that these students have long been having discussions and voicing their needs, and that the university has been willingly ignoring these voices.

Institutions like Mizzou and Duke and Yale have many sympathizers, those who feel like there is no need for the outrage, especially with the freedom to speech abound. What many fail to accept is, while everyone has the freedom of speech disbarring certain things, it only protects you from government taking action, and that you will still face the repercussion from others who do not agree. Of course, I’m not going to tell a student that they cannot wear an outfit, but that student cannot come back and complain when I call them out and let them know about the internalized oppression that comes with wearing said outfit. I do not need white validation in order to let you know that what you are doing is racist, even when your “intentions were far from that.”  The university does have a need for money in order to continue the upkeep, but as per the mission statement, they have a responsibility to their students that they have not been upholding, and as a result, these students have just as much rights to freedom of speech in order to fight against it.



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