Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) students are in a battle to remove confederate iconography from the campus. They have been in this battle since 1968.
In a letter to the Editor of The Daily News Journal, Joshua Crutchfield graduate history student at MTSU specializing in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, urges his classmates to transfer to an HBCU because of the racism on campus.
He writes, “What’s awfully apparent, however, is that neither MTSU nor the state of Tennessee thinks black students matter. How much longer do we have to tell you that having symbols of white supremacy on our campus don’t exactly give us warm and fuzzy feelings? How do we expect to eradicate white supremacy if we cannot even remove its symbols? How much longer do we have to beg for you to see our humanity? At what point does begging diminish my own humanity?”
He writes further, “Black students make-up 20 percent of the undergraduate population at MTSU. One in five undergraduates at MTSU are black students. And I think they should all transfer to an HBCU.”
Lastly, the letter says, “At an HBCU, students may experience a different set of challenges, but they don’t experience challenges that question their very humanity. And that’s where I’m at. I’ll never tell another black person to attend MTSU and I’m highly suggesting that those who do to consider transferring.”
Joshua and I had a conversation about his letter and the entrenched racism on MTSU’s campus. The exclusive interview is below:
Robert: Why is it important to support Black institutions?
Joshua: In this movement for Black lives, it is important to support Black institutions. Black lives matter and we should build and support institutions that reflect that. We can’t just claim that “the whole damn system is guilty as hell,” and not begin to imagine what type of systems and institutions we want to build. Supporting Black institutions like HBCUs is a good point of departure to creating a world where anti-blackness isn’t the law of the land.
Robert: Would you urge other students at Predominately White Institutions (PWIs) to transfer to HBCUs?
Joshua: I would definitely encourage Black students currently enrolled at PWIs to transfer to an HBCU. And this is not a point about debating the degree of blackness one has if they decide to attend a PWI vs. an HBCU. That’s absurd. It’s simply about participating in institutions that affirm your humanity and that support your ambitions. Identity politics aside, HBCUs award the most Black PhDs and recent studies have suggested that Black alumni from HBCUs have better outcomes in terms of their well-being (social, financial, purpose, community, and physical elements) compared to black alumni who attend PWIs. That alone should encourage black students who want to lead successful lives to not only transfer to HBCUs but to choose HBCUs first.
Robert: Do Black Lives Matter at PWIs?
Joshua: I’m not sure there’s evidence to support the claim that Black lives matter at PWIs. We’ve seen Black students on campuses across the country protest the pervasive anti-blackness existing on those campuses. The protest have been saying that Black lives and indeed Black students’ lives don’t matter.
Are we to surmise that these examples of Duke, Harvard, Mizzou, MTSU, and others are unique? I doubt it. We can only conclude that other PWIs are experiencing forms of individual and institutional racism. I’ve gone to countless conferences where I talk to Black graduate students and faculty that attend and work at PWIs. Their stories are almost always the same. These students and faculty feel extremely isolated.
Students, in 2016, still talk about sitting in class and having to answer the “Black perspective,” when Black topics come up in seminars. Faculty talk about all the ways they have to “play the game” with their white colleagues in order to earn tenure, for example. And we know what this game is. It’s about attempting to become the most benign and least threatening negro they possibly can, so that their White colleagues will like and accept them. But this game is no game at all. Rather, its what happens when we participate in institutions, like PWIs, where Black lives don’t matter. It diminishes our spirits and our humanity. And I don’t think we have to be where our lives don’t matter.