The Outlook

This isn't for the sensitive

Black Students Stepping Up For Black Students

I recently read a blog post at Field Negro about a girl named Chanequa Campbell.  I encourage you all to check out his blog, he is always on point. In his post he links to the site he found the information from and from there I found this news article written from the side of the Black Harvard student community. I encourage you to read that article as well, as it’s the basis for my commentary. I’ve also seen other commentary about this story out in the blogosphere through the lens of what happened to Professor Gates a few days ago.

Many individuals are concerned that while Dr. Gates has been able to draw a lot of attention to his situation, Chanequa Campbell and others like her are ignored by the media because they are poor and their story resonates, the media thinks, with very few.

Allow me to sum up her situation: A Harvard student was killed in a drug deal gone wrong. The accused killer was, at the time, dating a girl with whom Chanequa was friends. The Harvard administration, by some accounts, put both Campbell and her friend out of the dorm and prevented them both from graduating. Other accounts say that only Campbell was kicked out and blocked from graduation because her friend came from “the right side” of the tracks and had the clout and support to prevent Harvard from doing that to her, while Chanequa, a black student from a poor neighborhood, was at the administration’s mercy.

If the only thing Chanequa did wrong in this situation was to have the wrong types of friends, then shame on Harvard. However, I have a feeling that’s not the case.

Harvard’s black community has begun to recieve a lot of flack from the general blog community for not standing up for Chanequa. Many feel that the black students should have organized in a fashion similar to what some of Chanequa’s non-Harvard friends have done and petitioned the administration to allow her to graduate. Chanequa herself has criticized them and said that they have shunned and ostracized her because of where she’s from.

I went to a PWI very similar to Harvard (in fact, we say Harvard is the northern version of us…) I know what the black communities at schools like these can be like. Sometimes too quick to call racism when there is none and sometimes not as protective of each other as we should be. I’ve heard stories of what Harvard’s Black community is like and I think in some ways I’m a bit envious. They have major clout with their administration, but I know that’s from a LOT of hard work, a lot of give and take. They have story after story of standing up for their own when an injustice occurred and so I take pause when I see a situation where they don’t.

The article linked above mentions that some of the black students stayed away from Chanequa early on because she involved herself in the drug trade on campus. While no one in this article or elsewhere suggests that Chanequa was the cause of the Harvard student’s death, there seems to be implicit comment that Harvard’s reaction was not off base.

“People are pretty sure she did something, they just don’t know what,” said a Black classmate in Campbell’s graduating class, who requested anonymity. “We can’t rally behind somebody we don’t necessarily believe in.”

Clout is like money. You can spend it or you can hoard it. For the black community to rally behind Chanequa, they would spend some of the clout they’ve earned with Harvard. That would be fine if they all felt she’d been wronged but for them to be uneasy about spending the clout on her speaks volumes.

Some have suggested this is actually a class issue. Chanequa being the first to say that because she came from a poor neighborhood in New York, her fellow black students don’t want anything to do with her. What struck me, however, was the listing of how involved in the black community she was. Black students are shunned at PWIs. It happens all the time. If you are shunned, when someone writes about you, they won’t be able to say you were very involved… black people take the blacklisting very far.

I think the reality is that Chanequa involved herself in some subpar activity that her fellow students knew about. When the murder occurred, I’m sure the rumors began and I’m sure the rumors were based in some facts. When Harvard laid down their punishment the black community looked at what they knew and decided that it was best left alone. I don’t blame them. In schools like these the black community’s relationship with the administration is paramount. That relationship can make things easier or harder for the students that follow.

I don’t want to sound cold-hearted; I actually feel bad for Chanequa. I’m sorry that she worked hard at a school like Harvard and won’t be able to reap the rewards. I’m sorry that the black community didn’t feel comfortable stepping up for her. Ultimately, there’s nothing about this that is good.


July 24, 2009 Posted by | News, Ramblings, What in sam hell is going on?! | 2 Comments