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Protest Amplifies Discussion of Race on Campus

Student organizer Addison Bates ’18 leads protestors in a march across campus inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

A day of student protest inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement amplified the ongoing discussion about race on campus last week.

More than four hundred Reed students boycotted classes Monday and joined a campus demonstration to protest police brutality, black lives lost, and racial inequality in the wake of Isaiah Washington’s call for a nationwide boycott to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Students organized a peaceful but boisterous “Noize Parade,” complete with drums, kettles, pots, pans, and pails. Chanting “Black Lives Matter, Black Reedies Matter!” they marched through campus (briefly disrupting a Hum 110 lecture) before rallying in the Quad.

In addition to national issues, protesters highlighted the unique difficulties facing black students at Reed, including the small number of black professors and the fact that Reed’s retention rate for black students is lower than the rate for the student body as a whole.

The most recent six-year graduation rate for black students is 88%, which is actually higher than the overall rate of 78% for all Reed students. But it’s worth emphasizing that these statistics are based on a small sample and fluctuate considerably from year to year. For example, the six-year graduation rate for black students who entered in Fall 2009 was 53%, compared to an overall rate of 82%. Over the past six years, the average six-year graduation rate among black students is 65%, compared to an overall rate of 79%. That said, President John R. Kroger has declared that the graduation rate for all Reedies is too low, and that the achievement gap reflected in these statistics is a call to action for the entire institution.

The college did not cancel classes, but Nigel Nigel Nicholson, Dean of the Faculty, invited individual professors to determine how they wanted to accommodate the protest. Many professors cancelled classes; others held extra sessions or adjusted deadlines so that students could participate.

Faculty, staff and students found many ways to participate in the conversations, both in class and in informal gatherings throughout the day. Hundreds of people gathered in the Quad for an open-mic session where students, professors, and staff talked about what it feels like to be black at Reed and in Portland.

Later in the afternoon, some 40 students crowded into President Kroger’s office to present a list of demands intended to improve the Reed experience for black students. Sitting on the floor with a cup of coffee at hand, Kroger took notes on a yellow legal pad. After the demands were presented, the students engaged in a thoughtful and lengthy discussion with President Kroger, Dean of Students Bruce Smith, Vice President for Student Services Mike Brody, and Dean for Institutional Diversity Mary James.

Following the meeting, President Kroger wrote an email to the Reed community:

I write at the end of a very important day for Reed. Our students who led and participated in today’s events have given us a great deal to think about, and I am very grateful to them for their tireless work on the critically important issues they have raised. I know that this came at no small expenses of time and energy, and I appreciate their extraordinary efforts to keep this discussion civil while not undermining its urgency. I am very proud of our students. ...

I, like our students, would very much like to see Reed increase the pace of hiring black tenure-track faculty; make gains in recruiting, retaining and graduating black students; create a comparative race and ethnic studies program; build on programs now in place to scaffold learning at Reed so that students from less well resourced high schools can thrive academically and graduate; and take concrete steps to build a campus culture in which all people of color feel supported and welcomed.

The conversation resumed the next day, when Kroger, a number of faculty, and senior administrators met with roughly 100 concerned students for more than five hours to discuss the students’ demands, which ranged from more transparency on graduation rates to creating a race and ethnic studies program to restructuring Hum 110.

“It was a powerful, frank, and often passionate discussion,” President Kroger wrote afterwards. “We went through the list demand by demand. There was agreement on many issues and plans to work together for change. Many of these actions will take place in the next few weeks.”

Reed has taken steps over the years to make its community more inclusive and diverse. The student body comprises 28% US ethnic minorities with an additional 9% international students. The Dean for Institutional Diversity leads campus efforts to strengthen diversity. There is also an Office of Inclusive Community, a Multicultural Resource Center, a Gender Studies Consortium, and more than fifty academic courses which address some aspect of race, ethnicity, and gender. The Center for Teaching and Learning hosts ongoing workshops where professors can learn how to work more effectively with students from a broad range of backgrounds and identity groups. The college sponsors numerous events during Black History Month and holds the Vine Deloria Lecture Series to recognize Native American scholars.

Several student organizations reflect the community’s diversity, including the Arabic Culture Dorm, the Asian Student Kollective, the Black and African Student Union, Chabad at Reed, DiversifY, Latinx Student Union, Low SES & First Gen Student Group, Oh For Christ’s Sake, Queer Alliance, Reed College Feminist Student Union, South Asian Student Union, and the Women’s Center.

However, the protest underscored the sense of urgency that many students feel regarding questions of race on campus. “Our goal is to move our institution away from perpetuating racism and towards perpetuating antiracism,” said organizer Addison Bates ’18.

“I have been deeply moved by the passion, grace, and spirit of collaboration the student leaders exhibited in bringing our community together to both mourn the the national tragedy of black lives lost and to focus attention on critical issues affecting students of color in our own community,” Dean James told the Quest. “My heartfelt thanks go out to all community members who have taken the time to both speak and listen in the last two days.”

 

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