UNC students confront the college’s racial awareness

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In the midst of the 2016 Donald Trump rally on UNC's campus, one protester supports the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Photo by Jason Keller.

Racial tension is trending on the University of Northern Colorado campus in 2018.

UNC is ranked among the most diverse campuses in Colorado. According to UNC’s 2018 Spring Census Profile Report, 31 percent of students on campus are members of a minority race.

UNC may have more racial tension than the statistics have led the public to believe.

African-American students on campus are reporting instances where white students are using the N-word in everyday conversation. When confronted about the negative connotation caused by this word, white students often feel as if they are in the right. One black UNC sophomore, who wishes to remain anonymous, has experienced this.

“I got into an altercation with my roommate. There was a lot of verbal abuse, threat and harassment and I ended up having to move out of my dorm,” said the sophomore, describing her encounters with the N-word on campus. “It was all around the use of the N-word. I filed a police report because I did not feel safe, but they didn’t do anything because of freedom of speech.”

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UNC sophomore Kylie Kayemba, an African-American student, recalls a similar experience.

“My friend told me she was standing in line at the Subway in the UC and two girls in front of her kept using the N-word in their conversation,” Kayemba said.

At the 2016 rally in which President Donald Trump came to UNC, chants and slogans were introduced to campus, encouraging minorities to return back to their homelands. Some of the chanters were not even students at UNC, but rather outside individuals targeting minorities on campus. These incidents of racial conflict that arose in response to the Trump rally were protected by the UNC faculty and Greeley police through the right to free speech in a public space. In fact, some black students who reported harassment during the Trump rally were told by the police that nothing could be done, and the individuals could leave campus if they did not like what was going on.

Black students did not just sense the conflict anymore, they could also bear witness to it.

“The Trump rally created a feeling as if people of color were being targeted. Before I was always aware and cautious about my race, but now I have a general feeling of being unsafe,” said the anonymous UNC sophomore.

Following the election of President Trump, racial tension became more evident to many people at UNC. The election of a president so openly against relaxed immigration control seemed to signal to some that discrimination against an entire group of people was popular.

“It got really bad. People were saying racial slurs to black people, people were shouting ‘Go back to your country,’ someone even put a whole poster on the campus library saying ‘Death to Diversity,’” said the anonymous sophomore, explaining why she did not feel safe on campus.  

“I study elementary education and I am the only black person in my year in the entire college. The only other black person I talk to in elementary ed is Doctor Middleton,” Kayemba said, depicting her isolation.

Why does the skin color of black students on campus have to lead to feelings of isolation and discrimination? This is the same question that civil rights activists, such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, asked America in an attempt to discredit racism.

“I feel most black students feel isolated when they enter a classroom on campus and I don’t think that’s right,” Kayemba said.

Some black students on campus describe instances in which they are isolated and targeted in the classroom. When they look to the faculty in charge of the classroom for shelter from the storm, the faculty chooses to let free speech and a lively debate prevail.

“Some of my friends have been in classes where someone will say something completely racist during a classroom debate but the professor doesn’t do anything to stop it. They just give everyone their chance to talk,” Kayemba said.

UNC senior Nicholas Johnson is also an African-American student, and has played football for the college for four years. He has experienced the same thing.

“In class sometimes, some guys will be joking around and they say something racist against black people and all I can do is just kinda give them a look,you know?” Johnson said.

So what is happening to combat these negative trends? The general attitude among black UNC students is to continue the work of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and provoke change, “By all means necessary.” Many of the black students on campus are tired of the inaction from faculty and are ready to see change. Although there are mentors and cultural centers on campus aimed directly at fostering diversity, students feel like this is not going far enough.

Angel Cooper, a black UNC sophomore, expressed her views on modern day civil rights activism.

“I feel like as a society we have taken a step backwards,” Cooper said. “If we want something to change we need to stop talking about it. You can’t just keep talking about it.”

Kayemba agrees, comparing the racial tension today to the days of MLK and Malcolm X.

“I see our fight as a continuation of what Malcolm X stood for, especially because a lot of us are tired of just sitting around and watching nothing happen,” Kayemba said.

The main request from African-American students on campus is to wake up and see that racial tension is alive at UNC.

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