On February 9, Uni High had a school-wide assembly in honor of Black History month. Professor Erik McDuffie, from the department of African American Studies, spoke about African history and how the history of African Americans impacts their lives today. McDuffie emphasized that racism is firmly embedded in our society, stemming from ancient history, and produces many of the struggles people of color face today.
According to the US Census Bureau, Champaign has an African American population of about 16%, while African American students make up only 5% of the Uni student body, according to the Uni website. When asked about this discrepancy, McDuffie talked about how “there are politics at privilege” when Uni accepts new students. He believes that the racial statistics in Uni are a result of where they actively look to recruit students from. He also pointed out that many Uni students have parents who are University of Illinois faculty, admitting that even his own daughter most likely got admission to Uni because he and his wife are both faculty at the U of I.
When asked about his own experiences as a person of color at the U of I, McDuffie said that he has had white students who “give snarky comments, looks of intimidation, and act rude.” He feels that, due to the current political situation, racists feel it is “open season” and are taking the opportunity to say and do harmful things toward people of color.
Especially for students of color, this racist culture can result in excessive stress, anxiety, and depression, causing them to even drop out of school or turn to substance abuse. As such, McDuffie feels that it is important that people check in on each other to ensure that they are doing alright. McDuffie feels that racism in America is at one of its worst points that he’s ever seen in his lifetime. However, McDuffie sees potential for change. He encourages people of color to fight back against racial injustices, and urges everyone, regardless of their background, to stay educated about history and other current events.