U students should build on legacy of our anti-racist past by protesting

Matthew Boynton, Ph.D. candidate in American studies, Students for a Democratic Society

On Sunday, the University of Minnesota will become host to the largest protest on campus in several decades. A coalition of national groups, anchored by local organizations like the American Indian Movement, are coming to campus to demand that Washington changes its football team’s name. Students need to join with AIM and others in protesting racism on our campus and demand that our administration lives up to its promise to improve diversity and provide an inclusive campus climate for minority students at the University.

University students have a proud history of opposing racism on campus and of making these kinds of demands on our administrators. This weekend, we need to build on this legacy instead of standing on the sidelines or resigning ourselves to political apathy. Like the students who came before us, we need take a stand against racism on campus.

In 1969, dozens of black students with the Afro-American Action Committee seized and occupied Morrill Hall to demand former President Malcolm Moos to live up to his promises and increase diversity at the University. They demanded an African-American studies department and increased scholarships for black students. They won these demands through protest, and that 1969 Morrill Hall takeover represents the birthplace of our current African and African-American studies department at the University. 

Similarly, in 1971, Chicano students with the Latin Liberation Front demanded a more open curriculum, one representing their histories and identities, from the University’s administration and eventually staged an occupation of Morrill Hall when the administration proved too slow in putting its words into action.

Through this occupation, the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies was born. These protests — while polarizing at the time and seen by some as crossing the boundaries of acceptable political speech — were effective in expanding access to education for non-white students and increased diversity at the University. Now we too are faced with a similar situation.

President Eric Kaler has been outspoken about his opposition to the Washington football team’s name. However, the administration is acting in an overly cautious manner, and its strong rhetorical stance against racism on campus has yet to translate into equally strong actions. On Sunday, I hope that all University students will carry forward the historical legacy that anti-racist protests have had at our university — by both participating in the rallies and marches against the Washington team and by demanding action from our administration.