The Naked Truth/Jamala Rogers
The College Campus as a
Microcosm of Society
Last month, I reminded people that it was the 25th anniversary of the Brothers of the Black List incident. During the Labor Day weekend 25
years ago, the Black, male students of SUNY Oneonta were systematically pulled out of their beds, confronted on public buses and rounded up
at sports practices. They were forced to show their hands to police or face arrest. The disgusting revelation was that school officials
generated a list of all the Black, male students on campus and their residences—all 125 of them—and turned the list over to the Oneonta
police. The incident spurred the longest litigated civil rights case in U.S. history and inspired the must-see documentary "The Brothers of the
The racist round-up stemmed from the attempted rape of an elderly white woman who fought with her knife-wielding attacker and caused the
man to cut his hands on the knife. The victim told police all she saw was a black arm. Trained dogs were brought to the scene to pick up the
scent of a young, Black male that police claim went in the direction of the campus.
It was later found out that the victim never said her attacker was young. It was also revealed that the dog handlers stated that the scent of the
perpetrator went in the opposite direction of the Oneonta campus. This hunt was all the racially-biased machinations of the all-white police
force. The victim even criticized the police for their actions and publicly stated that she also believed the students’ rights had been violated.
These kinds of racist, polarizing incidents could be teachable moments for campus officials to take the high road. Instead, most
administrations tend to move quickly to white-wash the incidents and attempt to erase any evidence of their existence. The opportunity to sum
up valuable lessons in the lives of young people (and the not-so young) is missed for the sake of public relations.
Part of the enduring trauma of the mentoring adults at Oneonta was the painful realization that as Black folks—Black, grown folks—we can’t
seem to protect our own children in this racist society. The institutions that interface with our children deserve scrutiny and transformation. It’s
not just about preserving our credibility as the village; it’s about building a safe and supportive future for all young people.
The attacks on our young people, especially males, are getting more vicious and the scarring more lasting. The assaults are not only physical
and psychological, they are also social, political and cultural as well. They occur in the educational institutions as well as in the workplaces,
in the social service spaces and in the streets. Re-focusing and doubling our efforts on our youth must be one of our priorities.
Fighting for inclusion, for racial and gender equity, for religious and academic freedom—this is what democracy could look like on our nation’s
This fall semester started off with an uptick in racist incidents on college campuses across the country. There
have been reports of all kinds of racist activities from carving swastikas into walls to physical assaults. These
have happened on campuses like Cornell, Drake, Purdue, Stockton and Cabrini Universities, to name a few.
Even the University of Wisconsin-Madison didn’t shy away from exposing its racist underbelly. According to UW
reports, there were 16 racial incidents reported in the weeks after the election of president trump and they didn’t
stop in 2016. trump has constantly thrown kerosene on the flames of racism, homophobia, gender bias, sexual
orientation and Islamophobia.
And while most people see campuses as a refuge from the ugly symptoms of a capitalist system —a utopia of sort
— I always remind them that our college and universities reflect the issues and contradictions of our larger
society. The good part is that because campuses are much smaller in scale, they can truly be used as
laboratories for building a true civic society. We have been engaged in this experiment called democracy for
centuries and we’ve still got a long way to go.