Photo by Chris Lydgate ’90
Photo by Chris Lydgate ’90

Protest Amplifies Discussion of Race on Campus

October 3, 2016

A day of protest inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement amplified the discussion about race on campus in September.

More than 400 students joined a campus demonstration to protest police brutality and racial inequality in the wake of Isaiah Washington’s call for a nationwide boycott to support Black Lives Matter.

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.

Over the past six years, the average six-year graduation rate among black students is 65%, compared to an overall rate of 79%. 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.

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.

Some 40 students later presented President Kroger with a list of demands intended to improve the Reed experience for black students, which ranged from more transparency on graduation rates to creating a race and ethnic studies program to restructuring Hum 110. Afterwards Kroger wrote:

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.

Reed has taken steps over the years to make its community more inclusive. The student body comprises 28% U.S. ethnic minorities with an additional 9% international students. Dean for Institutional Diversity Mary James leads efforts to strengthen diversity and oversees the Office of Inclusive Community and the Multicultural Resource Center. Reed offers more than fifty academic courses which address some aspect of race, ethnicity, and gender. The Center for Teaching and Learning hosts workshops where professors can learn how to work more effectively with students from a broad range of backgrounds. 

Reed’s diversity is reflected in many student groups, including the Arabic Culture Dorm, the Asian Student Kollective, the Black and African Student Union, Chabad at Reed, Latinx Student Union, Oh For Christ’s Sake, Queer Alliance, South Asian Student Union, and the Women’s Center.

However, the protest underscored the sense of urgency many students feel on questions of race. “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 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.”

Tags: Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Campus Life, Students