By Dylan Deprey
Solana Patterson-Ramos walked up to the podium fueled with energy, looking out over the Saint Matthew C.M.E. Church basement. She then gave her testament of her experience as a black undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“I had white, black and brown friends when I was younger and I didn’t really experience racism until I went to UWM,” Patterson- Ramos said.
January’s Community Brainstorming Conference was “The New Assault on Blackness: The Restructuring of Higher Education.”
Moderator Hon. Russell W. Stamper, Sr. led the meeting, also cutting off the individuals who had seemingly long winded questions or statements.
The audience consisted of community members as well as elected officials.
There was also a group of students and faculty from UWM’s Africology department.
The panelists included black professors and students who detailed their first hand experiences of microagressions while attending higher education.
From a psychological standpoint, the term “microaggression” refers to casual degradation of marginalized groups through verbal and nonverbal slights or insults, which can be intentional or unintentional.
Racial microaggressions are commonly experienced, but women, religious minorities, people with disabilities and sexual minorities often experience this as well.
Robert Smith, who has a doctorate in History, is the Associate Vice Chancellor for Global Inclusion and Engagement.
He is also the director of the Cultures & Communities Program and an Associate Professor of History at UWM.
As a professor, Smith gave the group a mini lesson of how the college universities in the United States have gotten to the state they are now.
“These vicious rights assaults gained momentum in the 1980s and 1990s after affirmative action attacks,” Smith said.
He mentioned definitive court cases like the Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger.
These cases addressed the factor of race in the admission process of students at the University of Michigan.
The cases questioned by the Supreme Court had defined how affirmative action could be used during the admissions process.
Smith also addressed the how colleges implemented more of a business strategy to running the university.
He also touched on the recent budget cuts that struck the UW system over the past year.
“Students are going to school in stressful times,” Smith said.
The next panelist was a current undergraduate student and President of UWM’s Black Student Union, Lavelle Young.
His presentation included his personal experiences, observations and conversations with other students as what it meant to be a black student engaged in school.
Young mentioned experiencing microaggressions.
“It’s frustrating when you are the only black student in class or when your input in a class group project is disregarded,” Young said.
Young mentioned how discouraging it is to get involved at UWM being that it is a predominantly white college.
His proposed solution isn’t to combat every microagression.
He aims to ease the tension students feel and provide a safe space or black space.
“We can share our frustrations and escape the negative environment,” Young said.
He also mentioned how the university needs to engage black students and push for having some form of representation on student government.
“We shouldn’t have to jump through these hoops and obstacles,” Young said. “It should be a level playing field.”
Charmaine Lang, a Doctoral Student studying Africology at UWM and Director of the Reproductive Justice Collective Project, was the final speaker.
Lang detailed a multitude of stories she had collected of black women working to get their degrees.
Story after story, Lang described the struggle black women faced in academia.
She read quotes from her colleagues like, “I would never wish academia on anybody,” and “Black women professors are here to serve, aided by the myth of the strong black women.”
“What are we to do?” Lang said. “What happens in society happens in the universities.”
Lang advocated for safe spaces for black women to come together and combat the multigenerational trauma these women face.
The panel answered questions from the audience and listened to statements including issues about the budget.
“We can have all the greatest ideas in the world but it doesn’t work if you don’t have the resources,” Smith said.