President Mercer and school administrators hosted a Town Hall meeting in Friends’ Hall yesterday to address race and inclusion on campus. The meeting comes amidst the racial tensions at the University of Missouri that resulted in the resignation of the school’s president and chancellor.
Ramapo’s first response to this situation came in the form of protest that I took part in. My favorite chant from the protest had to be “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” This chant essentially explains the need for the Town Hall meeting, and, as a black male student at Ramapo, I appreciate President Mercer’s effort to make a change. At the same time, however, it is important to be critical of the present racial and gender based exclusion that minority students feel on campus.
The first step to make a change is to expose the realities of the situation. In no way am I attempting to attack the school president, but in times of change you must point to those in charge.
For starters, compared to Ramapo’s competing schools such as Montclair University, Rowan University, Stockton University, Kean University, William Paterson, Seton Hall, Monmouth University and The College of New Jersey, Ramapo is the second lowest in minority student body, with a percentage of about 27 percent, according to the most recent posting on Petersons.com. This percentage can be broken down to 5.6 percent black, 13.7 percent Hispanic and 6.5 percent Asian.
William Paterson in Wayne, approximately 11 miles from Ramapo, has slightly fewer than 50 percent minority students and was the most racially diverse of the aforementioned schools.
Mercer was asked by a student if he felt the campus was diverse, in which he responded that the college demographics should be relative to that of the state. But based on the percentages of other colleges, it is safe to say that, regardless of the state-wide race statistics, there is room for improvement, compared to a geographically-close William Paterson that almost doubles Ramapo’s minority enrollment.
This is a percentage that has to increase for various reasons. For one, it creates dialogue. When I reported on the “Conversations about Race” meetings last semester, I was disappointed to see only a handful of Ramapo students in attendance, considering the many national headlines on racial tensions that happened prior to said meetings. I applaud the Women’s Center and the Center for Student Involvement for making the attempt to generate the dialogue, but Ramapo students were not interested.
So maybe what we need (instead of “Conversations about Race”) is actual personal dialogue where black, white, Latino, Asian and multiracial students can develop honest friendships and learn more about each other and their life experience in regard to race. For a lot of my friends at Ramapo, I am their first (if not their only) black friend. A higher minority population on campus would make it difficult to continue the de-facto segregation on campus and get to know one another, which studies have proven can help progress a student’s education and critical thinking.
Second, President Mercer’s relationship with minority students is something that needs to improve which he also agreed is true at the meeting. When Ramapo students got together to protest group gatherings at the Village, President Mercer was in attendance to speak with student leaders about the issue. When sexual assaults were reported on campus, Mercer did not shy away and avoid the issue, but rather sent a personal letter to students addressing what happened and even set controversial policies in an effort to avoid future assaults. However, when students protested during the Ferguson controversy, racist remarks on the anonymous app ‘Yik Yak’ were not really addressed until the State of the College address the following semester.
One student at the Town Hall meeting spoke out about micro-aggressions he experienced at Ramapo, an issue I am sure many minority students (mostly black) can relate to. Hopefully that opened President Mercer and the all-white board members’ eyes to underlying racial tensions on campus and becomes a stepping stone in improving his relationship with minority students.
Mercer described the conundrum of recruiting minority educators and minority students as a “chicken and egg” situation, which I do not agree with. Mercer believes that minority faculty would only work for Ramapo, knowing that there were a good amount of minority students to educate and vice-versa, which is not true. Minority students want to be educated. They want to attend college, regardless of what the educators look like. I personally chose Ramapo over Rowan or William Paterson (more racially diverse campuses) because of the location (next to New York City) and the Communications curriculum, which I felt was very strong. Although my favorite professors are minorities (African-American, Latina and Asian) I never purposely intended to take their classes for that reason.
That being said, I believe that minority recruitment is essential to attracting minority faculty and even potential cabinet members to work with President Mercer to make Ramapo a more progressive school.
At the Town Hall meeting, which actually impressed me with a great turnout, a “strategic plan” for 2014-2018 was given to those in attendance. The plan seems pretty solid with 100 percent staff participation in diversity and inclusion and 100 percent of faculty increased knowledge and competence in dealing with issues of diversity and inclusion. But I would have liked to see an action plan for increased minority faculty. It is great to see the faculty want to engage with minority students, but no faculty member will understand a student’s needs more than one who can directly relate. People of color share similar life experiences, which are part of the mission here at Ramapo.
Another reason I felt Ramapo was a good fit for me was because of their care for knowing students and working with students on a personal level, which I have seen and experienced. Faculty actually does care about these students and works with them, but sometimes you just need that “race-based connection.”
I appreciate the effort being made to improve race relations at Ramapo and am very impressed with President Mercer, taking on such an important issue. Hopefully this Town Hall meeting was not just a temporary response to a national crisis and will actually be a developing process to produce a racially diverse and connected campus. Although I may not be at Ramapo to see it firsthand, I will definitely keep myself in tune with campus changes to see if Mercer keeps his word and improves minority relationships.