Juniata College sponsors field trip to Black Lives Matter protest

Last month, Juniata College encouraged students to attend a school-sponsored field trip to participate in a Black Lives Matter protest.

“JUNIATA STUDENTS, ARE YOU READY TO TAKE A STAND AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY?!” blares the caption to a flyer posted on the Facebook page of Juniata’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. “You are invited to join UMOJA (African American Student Alliance) with support from Juniata staff, faculty, and various departments to join a national protest in NYC this Saturday [December 13, 2014].”

The destination referred to in the post was the “Millions March NYC” rally to protest the killings of unarmed black civilians by police officers, which according to HuffPost featured around 30,000 participants, but remained peaceful and did not lead to any arrests.

“Are you sick of sitting around and doing nothing about the injustices in our justice system,” the post asks students, encouraging them to “Protest Police Brutality this Saturday!” and “Be part of a national movement!”

Although the organizers covered the cost of bus fare to Newark, New Jersey, attendees were asked to bring $10 for train tickets into New York City and food for the day.

Spokespersons for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion did not respond by press time to requests from Campus Reform for details regarding the number of students who participated in the event or the nature and extent of institutional support for the excursion.

The school-sponsored trip came just a few months before Juniata made national news for a professor’s tweets referring to both Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson and former Secretary of State Colin Powell by derogatory terms.

The website SoCawledge.com reported in September that Prof. David Ragland, who teaches “Peace and Conflict Studies” at Juniata, had sent a tweet calling Carson a “handkerchief head” in August, and followed up a few weeks later with another tweet referring to Powell as a “house ni***.”

The first insult—which according to SoCawledge is used to describe a black person “who does not identify with fellow black or African American people, but rather with white people for personal gain—came in response to Carson’s claim that abortion is the number one killer of black people, and offers no elaboration on Ragland’s complaint against Carson’s use of the statistic.

In the second tweet, Ragland replies to Powell’s assertion that while he “doesn’t mind” the BLM movement, black on black violence is a more important issue. “Really,” Ragland comments in the tweet, “aren’t you tired of being a house ni***?”

In October, Juniata hosted three activists from the protest group “Ferguson Frontline” as part of a lecture series originally proposed by Ragland called “Activists in Residence.”

The college is also hosting a separate workshop series this school year called “ Beyond Tolerance” which brings social justice activists to campus to lectures and film screenings.

In February, the series will feature two events addressing race issues: a faculty discussion on “the challenge of dealing with ‘whiteness’ (and, sometimes, white students)” and a presentation comparing photographs from the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri to images of segregation in 1950’s America.

In addition to school-sponsored events and lectures, Juniata also maintains an ongoing effort to promote diversity on campus with its “ Stewards of Diversity” program, which enlists faculty members to go through special training in diversity employment and then use that training to assist hiring committees in finding qualified minority candidates.

The school’s website indicates that a three-year trial period for the Stewards of Diversity program ended in May, 2015, but Committee Chair Dr. Grace Fala did not respond by press time to inquiries from Campus Reform regarding the program’s current status.

The college also has ongoing initiatives to promote diversity and tolerance, such as the Bias Response Team (BRT), which “is charged with developing appropriate educational responses to campus issues which may arise from instances of intolerance and/or biased behaviors by working with a group composed of students, faculty, and administrators.”

The school’s website defines a bias incident as “an event which expresses a bias against a person because of a perceived quality of that person such as race, ethnicity, color, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, disability, veteran, or family status.” In addition, students are encouraged to report instances of harassment—including “kidding, teasing, or practical jokes directed at a person based on his or her protected status”—to the BRT.

Dr. Fala also did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for specific examples of action that the BRT has taken in response to bias reports from students.

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