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From the Editor: Race on Campus

By Donna Young

All is not well on college and university campuses in the United States. Market-centered approaches to higher education are increasingly pressuring institutions to act as training grounds for corporate interests instead of as instruments of democratic citizenship. From the defunding of public institutions and the student debt crisis to the reductions in tenure-track positions and the exploitation of contingent faculty, almost every problem facing higher education today has its roots in neoliberal reforms now spreading through colleges and universities.

With these problems come tangible threats to the academy’s traditional role of serving the public good. Professors face the prospect of becoming but one component of a personal investment strategy for students who too frequently hear that higher education should be narrowly focused on job training. Programs must fit within a corporate model that limits educational opportunities. These changes are occurring as people of color gain access to higher education at greater rates than ever before. But what do they experience when they arrive on campus? In a corporate model, equality, dignity, access, and critical thinking too often must yield to market imperatives. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that student activism is resurgent on predominantly white campuses around the country and that it is driven by frustration with institutional failures to address matters of race on campus.

Given the disheartening changes in the academic landscape, what are we to think about this activism? The articles in this issue urge us not to dismiss the protests as the demands of coddled millennials. Some methods students are using might grate. The language might annoy. The demands might irritate. And the message might hurt. But what these students are doing is profoundly important. The systemic and systematic dynamics of inequality, privilege, bigotry, and racial animus on American campuses must be challenged. And activism on and off campus has the potential to democratize the larger political system, break down institutional barriers to equality, and repair higher education so that it can again serve the public good.

Several articles in this issue ask what we can learn from recent student activism. Peter Halewood urges us to be attuned to our collective responsibility to make education more relevant and inclusive and warns against writing off student concerns as petty grievances. Janell Hobson sees the university as a site for critical struggle and asks faculty to resist “punitive pedagogies.” Emily M. S. Houh asks what the AAUP can do for professors who support antiracist student activism.

Rana Jaleel turns to the importance of academic freedom for faculty whose research and teaching involves analysis of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Ibram X. Kendi then takes on the postracial ideology that underpins opposition to affirmative action and closes off opportunities for black students.

Drawing from their research on campus climate, Shaun R. Harper and Charles H. F. Davis III offer faculty members concrete suggestions on how to identify their own biases and respond to racism in the classroom. Finally, Anthony Paul Farley outlines the connections between the business model of austerity and racism on campus.

Student protests will not be confined to the 2015–16 academic year. And the issues at stake are not confined to students—faculty of color share many of the experiences of discrimination against which students are protesting. As the contributors to this issue argue, all faculty members must take seriously the student protests and rebuke the corporate university where social justice is marginalized.

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