Black Lives On Campus

What does the second civil rights movement look like? Is a new struggle for equality, in feelings as well as rights, afoot on American campuses?

It seemed possible this week when frustrated students toppled the president and chancellor at the University of Missouri. We’re asking how the whole thing happened, and if it’s part of a new model for racial change. Our guest Daunasia Yancey, the Boston organizer who confronted Hillary Clinton on inequality this year, hopes so.

12189352_526606837496332_9141353326007512538_o (1)Martin Luther King wrote: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” To many, the new activists at Mizzou and Yale — and, before this week, at UMich, UCLA and Arizona State — are living that lesson. They speak of pain, insecurity, and alienation in school — the stuff of Claudia Rankine’s poetry of microaggression and the polemic reporting of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Driven by recent history and the matter of black lives, the kids demand redress.

Others say the campus turn is risky. Our guest, the feisty blogger and professor Fredrik deBoer, worries that his liberal students are being illiberal in the name of sensitivity. There is a fear that big movements will start to focus on small, millennial things: Halloween costumes and misguided emails. A Yale senior screamed at her resident dean, and reasonable folks wondered “could life be so hard in the Ivy League?”

IMG_20151111_140844647 (1)Harvard students we interviewed this week say “yes.” One young man said he’s struggling to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.” He and hundreds of classmates gathered Wednesday to get recognition and testimony (but not much comfort) from Coates, the Atlantic writer we’re sampling in our program.

And we have two professors (pictured right), macro scholars on race and the law tasked with the micro events of student life. Ronald Sullivan and Stephanie Robinson are the first African American house masters (residential life deans) in Harvard’s long history. Many of their young charges are fed up, but Halloween passed without incident at Winthrop House.

So, tell us: What’s happening on your quad? What does the second civil rights movement feel like? And will the Ferguson spirit grow on campus or will it stall?

(Yale, above, in black and white courtesy of Philipp Arndt)

Guest List
Ronald Sullivan
Law professor, director of Harvard's Criminal Justice Institute, and co-master of Winthrop House.
Stephanie Robinson
Lecturer on law at Harvard, co-master of Winthrop House.
Fredrik deBoer
Writer and professor of composition at Purdue.
Daunasia Yancey
Founder and lead organizer of Black Lives Matter Boston.

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    this excellent ROS discussion on Mizzou and Yale campus racial tensions with
    previous ROS shows on rising inequality in America (recall the show with Thomas
    Piketty analyses as the focus).

    This “amalgamated”
    approach to the ROS shows will enrich your understanding by bringing in dimensions
    that are momentarily out of view:

    the “Gatsby Curve,” named after Jay Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece:

    “The Great Gatsby curve is a chart
    plotting the (positive) relationship between inequality and intergenerational
    social immobility in several countries around the world.

    The curve was introduced in a 2012 speech
    by chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Alan
    Krueger, and the President’s Economic Report to Congress, using data from
    labor economist Miles Corak. The name was coined
    by former Council of Economic Advisers (CEA)
    staff economist Judd Cramer, for which he was given a bottle of wine as a
    reward. The curve plots “intergenerational income elasticity”—i.e.
    the likelihood that someone will inherit their parents’ relative position of
    income level—and inequality in the United States and twelve other developed
    countries, though some versions of the curve include developing countries. Countries with low levels of inequality such as Denmark, Norway and Finland (all
    located in European
    had some of the greatest mobility, while the two countries with the high level
    of inequality—Chile
    and Brazil—had
    some of the lowest mobility.”


    There is a suggestive German word, “Torschlusspanik”
    which means, roughly, “the door is closing on me panic.”

    I want to suggest that the “Gatsby Curve”
    in America and the resultant “Torschlusspanik”while not by itself causing the
    racial tensions on the campus but are a co-factor and overlay that cannot be
    ignored. Economic anxieties always mix in with status anxieties and the sense
    of insult, threat, “micro-aggressions” and “bad vibes.”

    The Ferguson Effect and “The Gatsby Curve”
    work together. The feeling that

    “the door may be closing on me” sparks both anger and hysteria which
    short-circuit logic. Today’s behavior is of course partly the “net present
    value” of future prospects. Today’s mood and the outlook for the future are
    always entwined.

    The 1979 co-winner of the Nobel Prize inbeconomics, the Caribbean genius Arthur Lewis,

    wrote a book which overlaps with these issues:

    Racial Conflict and Economic Development (W.E.B. Du Bois Lectures) Hardcover – May 1, 1985

    Richard Melson