RACISM ON CAMPUS. Assault on black students at Columbia latest in growing trend

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

When Columbia University students rally today to protest a weekend brawl involving white and black students and two black security guards, it will mark the latest in a series of racially motivated campus incidents across the country. These range from highly publicized occurrences at the Citadel, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Minnesota, to less known instances at the University of Virginia, Howard University, and Hamilton College.

Most accounts agree that the Columbia altercation started when four white students began beating a black student early Sunday morning outside a campus activity center. Other whites and blacks reportedly joined in.

Sunday afternoon about 150 students of all races staged a demonstration to express outrage over the incident. The following evening more than 500 students filled a campus auditorium to hear eye-witness accounts.

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Several black students recounted the events. Cheryl Derricotte said ``it became open season on black people.'' Patricia Johnson, hearing whites call blacks ``niggers,'' was shocked. ``I've never heard a white person come out and say that word before in my life.''

An investigation has been launched by Columbia College Dean of Students Roger Lehecka.

At the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, three separate assaults against black students have been reported in the past six weeks, according to black graduate student Barbara Ransby.

Last week, 350 students took over the university's administration building to protest the increased number of racist incidents. They then disrupted a Board of Regents meeting.

After emergency sessions with regents and members of the administration, several demands were met, including the creation of a minority-affairs office, allocation of $35,000 in programming funds to the Black Student Union, granting of an honorary degree to Nelson Mandela, setting up of a formal mechanism to report racial incidents, and a commitment to increase black faculty, students, and staff.

Columbia claims a stable 8 percent black enrollment since a push to increase admissions of minorities nearly two decades ago. And in response to black-led student protests, the university has agreed to divest its South Africa investments. Nonetheless, Dean Lehecka says he believes conditions for black students ``have probably gotten worse in the last five or six years. Racism is pervasive in this society.''

Ms. Ransby says black students at Ann Arbor ``stress that what's happening here is reflective of what's happening all over the country. A climate has been set. It's now seen as legitimate.'' She is quick to point out that, once an incident occurs, ``students respond very swiftly and aggressively. The leadership is generally black, but significant numbers of all students respond.''

``The university has a responsibility to create a climate'' against racism, she says.

At the University of California at Berkeley, students from the United People of Color concerned about racism are petitioning school officials for a mandatory ethnic-studies course requirement. Columbia's Lehecka says a proposal to require students to take a course in non-Western civilization is under review.

He also feels more could be done ``to help minority students to go to graduate school'' to alleviate the shortage of black faculty on college campuses. He adds that college may also institute a more comprehensive orientation program ``to help students to understand each other better,'' and reduce racial tensions.''

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