CBC Members host forum about racism on college campuses

Lauren Victoria Burke and Freddie Allen | 9/16/2017, 11:59 a.m.
Congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce ...
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) recently hosted a forum on racism on college campuses on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. This photo was taken during a forum on criminal justice reform in Northwest Washington, D.C. in July 2015. (Freddie Allen/AMG/NNPA)

Congressional Democrats, led by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), the ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, recently hosted a forum on Capitol Hill titled “Affirmative Action, Inclusion, and Racial Climate on America’s Campuses.”

Conyers said that recent signals from the Justice Department hint at a change in administration policy and new attacks on affirmative action programs.

“This is not the time for the federal government to retreat from protecting equality in higher education,” said Conyers.

Student leaders, college diversity officials, and legal experts discussed the role of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in ensuring that students are welcomed to a safe, inclusive learning environment free of harassment and intimidation on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

Title VI, “was enacted as part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance,” according to the Justice Department.

“Title VI remains a critical tool in eliminating discrimination in schools,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. “It was a tool that was originally shared by the Department of Justice and by private plaintiffs.”

Ifill continued: “Now, we’re faced with an administration that is hostile towards civil rights—hostile to the Office of Civil Rights, itself.”

Ifill said that even though the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the constitutionality of the merits of affirmative action, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is preparing a unit in the Department of Justice to challenge the law at colleges and universities across the nation.

In the wake of violent protests and the White nationalists’ rally in Charlottesville, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan testified at the forum on what the university has done in the past and is trying to do in the future to promote diversity. Sullivan referenced past acts of naming various locations on campus after African Americans.

On August 11, hundreds of torch-bearing White supremacists marched across the campus of the University of Virginia to protests the removal of a Confederate monument from a public park.

“Let me be perfectly clear,” said Sullivan. “We’re not interested in having those folks back.”

Sullivan, Mayor Michael Signer, and the Charlottesville City Council have been criticized for not being more prepared for the “Unite the Right” rally and violence and mayhem that erupted in the small college town. The gathering was billed, weeks beforehand online, as one of the largest gatherings of White supremacists in U.S. history. One protester was killed and two Virginia state troopers died in a helicopter crash in Charlottesville over that weekend.

Taylor Dumpson, the student government president at American University and Weston “Wes” Gobar, the president of the Black Student Alliance at the University of Virginia also delivered remarks during the forum. Both student leaders documented specific incidents of racism on their campuses.