The Council on Black Minnesotans (CBM) kept its promise and returned to St. Cloud last week as it explores the area’s longstanding racial problems.
Last October, the CBM held an open meeting on the St. Cloud State University campus and heard countless accounts of racial insensitivity toward Blacks and other persons of color [“St. Cloud profiling exposed,” MSR October 18]. Officials vowed to return after the state-sponsored organization ran out of time.
Around 60 students, faculty and staff met March 14 with CBM board members at SCSU’s Atwood Center, the same location as last October’s public forum. However, this time the board met behind closed doors — officials told the MSR that they felt individuals would feel freer to speak without fear under these conditions.
According to several persons who agreed to speak to the MSR afterwards, an estimated 31 additional racial incidents were reported, including the drawings of swastikas in several campus buildings. The two meetings, one held with students and the other with SCSU faculty and staff, “both mirrored one another in terms of expressing their desire to heal race relations on campus,” claimed CBM Vice-Chair Ronald Brandon.
Added CBM Chair Martha Holton Dimick, “We believe that the information and the issues that we have learned of since we were here in October warrant immediate attention.”
“I just hope that they can help us out with our situation,” said SCSU senior Douglas Tanner of last week’s meeting. “It’s obvious that racism is a big thing here. We are tired of people who say they are gong to give us solutions and then they go back where they are from and we don’t get any solutions.”
Tanner, who transferred to St. Cloud State from a junior college two years ago, told the CBM about a December 2006 incident in which he encountered harassment from campus security officers. Tanner believes that reporting the incident to school officials eventually led to him being subjected to retaliation.
The Louisville, Kentucky, native added that SCSU Black students are subject to racial insensitivity virtually every day. “It’s absurd to go through the things we go through here just to get a college education,” he said.
The frustration level among SCSU students and staff of color is very high, others say. “The students are extremely frustrated and very discouraged,” noted Dr. Tamrat Tademe, a human relations and multicultural professor who has been at St. Cloud State for almost 20 years. “The faculty and staff of color also are extremely frustrated.”
Blacks and other faculty members of color “are experiencing racism on a daily basis,” Tademe added. “It has gone on for many, many years.”
The board took at least 20 pages of notes during the two meetings, said CBM Executive Director Lester Collins. The campus and off-campus concerns expressed included housing issues, a non-welcoming campus environment for Blacks and students of color, and their “value as students and as people,” Collins said.
He, too, sensed a high level of frustration from the individuals who spoke. “On a scale of one to 10,” Collins pointed out, “it is too close to 10.”
“Everyone is fed up,” said Tanner of Black students’ current frustration level with the current problems. “We are getting a college education, but not a college experience.”
SCSU President Earl Potter’s willingness to work on the campus racism problems “seems encouraging,” said Tademe. “We are very hopeful that the present president will work with us. But he has to really work with us, and together we will be able to overcome the racist political machine that exists on the campus.”
SCSU Professor Semya Hakim also expressed hope and support for Potter, but added, “It is very difficult for one person to make change in a racist structure.”
Tanner is not as optimistic about Potter and other school officials. On the swastikas incidents, “I really don’t like the way the president’s office is handling it,” the senior said.
No CBM official offered a timetable for when the council will act on testimony it has received or indicated what course of action will be taken next. “We hope to respond as soon as possible,” said Dimick.
However, Collins said that the CBM can do something about the racial problems at St. Cloud State, as well as in the city of St. Cloud. “I think we do have leverage here that we can bring to bear on some of the issues we heard,” he suggested. “I think we can legitimately do those things and hopefully effect change over a period of time.”
Nonetheless, amidst the frustrations expressed by many, “It is amazing that I was still hearing support for the university and belief that it could move forward, and a willingness to be a part of that,” Collins added.
Finally, Tanner, who plans to graduate from SCSU this fall with a double major in mass communications and communications studies, said he isn’t as optimistic that things will soon change, or that change will happen before he leaves. “I have never experienced or have been in so many [racial] situations as I have [since] I came here,” noted the Kentucky native. “I definitely would not recommend anyone [Black] to come here.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com, or read his blog, www.www challman.blogspot.com.