It’s Black History Month. Let’s listen to our Black students.
February is Black History Month, which for the Rice community means it’s an especially fitting time to reflect on the history of Black students on campus. William Marsh Rice’s original charter for the school excluded non-white students, and ever since the first Black undergraduates were admitted in 1965, the Black student community at Rice has made significant contributions to campus while simultaneously facing continued discrimination and racism.
This past summer, Black students let us know how we can make campus better with a list of demands called “Tangible Ways to Improve the Black Experience, as Demanded by Black Students: Inaction is Not an Option,” illuminating how the school still has a long way to go to fully accommodate all students. One of these demands was to admit more Black students. Given the recently announced plans to grow the student body 20 percent by 2025, this demand is more viable than ever. In order to show support for the Black community on campus, the administration must use this opportunity to increase the diversity of each incoming class as they increase the number of students admitted each year. Black History Month is a reminder to students as well as to administration to take action on the opportunities to make this campus better for Black students.
Another such demand was to remove Willy’s Statue from the academic quad. Students have been demonstrating to have the statue taken down for over 100 days, but little specific action has been taken in response by administration, and we still don’t have a clear idea of whether the statue will actually come down.
The Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Justice sent out an update on their work via email last week explaining their progress so far and ongoing research efforts. While we recognize the importance of the academic aspect of the task force’s charge and commend the historical research completed so far, the decision to not explicitly mention the protests at Willy’s Statue in this update diminishes the work of student activists and minimizes the impact of Rice’s legacies of racial injustice today. Even if the task force is not prepared to address the situation with formal recommendations, that committee has a responsibility to acknowledge the issue as one of significant and immediate implications for current and future Black students.
One of the ways we can hold our university accountable to such changes is by demanding transparency, a demand mentioned in the list of tangible ways to improve the Black experience. The list demands transparency concerning acceptance rates and other metrics. Being a Black student at Rice can be an isolating experience in many contexts, including in classrooms and residential colleges, because of how few Black students there are and how spread out they are across campus. The list also demands resources such as investment in a non-residential house for Black students and the ability for Black new students to request a Black roommate. As the student body grows, it’s important to keep the demands of Black students in mind to ensure that their college experience is equitable.
Another way our community can support Black students is by taking advantage of the resources that the task force has accumulated, to facilitate our own reckoning with Black history at Rice. From archival and library resources to digital projects, recorded lectures and podcasts, there are countless sources available to our entire community. Fondren Library staff have also compiled resources into a Black Lives Matter LibGuide, and the Woodson Research Center partnered with Rice for Black Life to exhibit “Rice Black Lives” at the Rice Memorial Center through the month of February. In acknowledgement of Black History Month, we all should take advantage of the opportunities currently available to educate ourselves and others while continuing to hold our university accountable for doing more.
Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Rishab Ramapriyan, Ivanka Perez, Amy Qin, Nayeli Shad, Ella Feldman, Katelyn Landry, Rynd Morgan, Savannah Kuchar, Ben Baker-Katz, Simona Matovic and Dalia Gulca.
More from The Rice Thresher
Recently, I was looking through pictures from my freshman year and discovered something startling — they all depicted me as an unhappy and miserable student. Transferring to Rice was never part of my postsecondary education plans. In fact, like most students, I graduated high school with the expectation that I would spend only four years in college. My complex college journey has led me to realize how important it is for us as individuals and an institution to actively work towards maintaining our diverse student body and prioritizing inclusion. In light of Rice’s plan to expand its undergraduate enrollment, it is imperative that students educate themselves about student movements and hold the institution accountable for its actions and promises, paying closer attention to the “Down with Willy” protests, the work being done by the Task Force and the steps the university will take to attract new students while also meeting the needs of current students.
I wanted to write a quick note of thanks to the Rice students who braved the coldest day in Houston in over 30 years to bring people waiting in line for a vaccine on Feb. 15 hot water, hot chocolate and snacks.