Recent protests roiling the nation were echoed in Philly Thursday as college students from Drexel and UPenn staged a walkout and protested down Market Street, blocking traffic more than half an hour.
Hundreds of students and their supporters chanted “We are Missouri” and “We are Yale” to show support for the schools that have been rocked by protesters in recent days.
While protests in Missouri focused on allegations of racist acts targeted at students, leading to the resignation of the president, a broader dialogue has arisen related to whether students of color feel safe and welcome at universities like Yale.
One black grad student at Penn described being constantly asked “Are you a Penn student?” Another black Penn student criticized a classmate who said they sympathized with Ferguson protesters because they had family members who were drug addicts and had criminal records.
“It’s pretty much all primarily white institutions, because students at these univiersites face similar situations,” said Daniel Wilson, 21, a UPenn student who participated in the protest. “So no, we’re not talking about one member of the faculty or an incident at Penn —but these are the sort of things that do happen at Penn and do happen at other schools. We can’t ignore that.”
Asa Khalif, a Philly activist who has played a large part in the local Black Lives Matter movement, said the university protests that are continuing to snowball have been “a long time coming.”
“The pot has been boiling for years. This is a generation now, and I’m proud to be a part of that generation, that is not taking any nonsense,” Khalif said.
On the other hand, a UPenn law professor who visited Yale on Tuesday was greeted by a university police security guard and protesters who had sought to have her talk canceled.
Professor Amy Wax was there to debate the practice of affirmative action, specifically in college admissions. Wax presented a talk saying affirmative action leads to worse outcomes for minority students. Some students at the meeting objected to the decision to hold the debate at all, claiming it was insensitive and racially offensive.
Some students protested by turning their backs on Wax and standing with their fists up in the air. The school newspaper reported that some students wept while they listened to Wax speak.
“Students are just completely unaware of the way they look to the outside world,” Wax told Metro on Thursday. “I don’t understand protesting a debate. If you don’t like the speaker’s viewpoints, participate.”
Wax said she “categorically rejects” that questioning affirmative action, based on statistics and other factual evidence, is a racist act.
“Student objections come from a profound miseducation,” she said. “I think they are tied to the whole affirmative action mentality… that students need to be treated with kid gloves, that they can never be called out or told their reactions are misguided or why, that their emotions are paramount and trump everything. But that’s not an education, and at the end of the day, we’re hurting students, especially minority students, by indulging these attitudes.”
For Khalif, who disagreed with Wax’ premise, the question is, “What is worth protesting?”
“People will stand on the issues they want to stand on, if they feel strongly about it, that’s their choice,” he said.
“There is nothing postracial about this. This is the generation where you’re going to have to stand on the side of the justice or hide in the shadows.”