Give one word to describe the Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech. “Nidouble g-er.” Welcome to Xavier. A defining moment of my freshman year, I can remember it like it happened yesterday. One of my suitemates in Kuhlman Hall was given this question as a part of a theology assignment. My suitemate, a white female, posted the question on her Facebook page and a string of responses ensued. Her friends wrote comments like “boring,” “long,” “silly,” “stupid” and a plethora of insulting words, but one girl who lived down the hall from me wrote “ni-double g-er” under the post.
This comment enraged me and my roommate. We told our RA and our Hall Director, and neither of them did anything. Fearing that she would get into trouble, the girl came to our room and issued a weak apology, claiming that it was “just a joke.” I did not accept her apology.
An excerpt from the Xavier University mission statement: “In an inclusive environment of open and free inquiry, we prepare students for a world that is increasingly diverse, complex and interdependent.” I came to campus in the fall of 2010 as part of the Smooth Transitions program with great expectations of Xavier’s campus. Part of Smooth Transitions was a mandatory diversity workshop that was also training for the RAs and Manresa leaders.
As an African-American woman coming from a large public high school that was predominantly white, I felt prepared for Xavier because it mirrored my high school. Unfortunately, the people who need the diversity training usually don’t have to attend. It is unfortunate that people have to be trained to be tolerant of others. The fact that the girl who lived on my floor had the gall to stand in my room, look me in my face, and tell me that she thinks saying “nigger” is the one word she would use to describe the MLK “I Have a Dream” speech was a joke blows my mind.
I would like to say that I do not condemn Xavier University as a whole. But some of the behavior I have observed during my time here and the interactions with students from diverse backgrounds upsets me. The climate of race relations at Xavier University is not very good to those students who are aware of their surroundings.
However, during my time at Xavier I have witnessed Xavier students take privilege and equate it with entitlement and occasionally it turns into prejudice. During the senior session of the Board of Trustees dinner, one of the students was giving an account of how Campus Police refused to come and patrol where she was walking home due to a lack of jurisdiction on their part. She complained because there were a lot of “unsavory” people on her walk home and she needed to feel protected.
Her use of the word unsavory took me aback. What exactly did she mean by that? As men and women for others, our Ignatian heritage invites us to walk alongside and learn from our companions, both local and afar, as we journey through life. For students to come into a community and deem the community members “unsavory” without knowing their background or struggles is unfortunate.
My friend and I went to Student Activities Council to ask for support of an event we were hosting on campus. The president of a prominent club was also there preparing to make a proposal. The president of SAC asked which group wanted to present first. Referring to my friend and I, the club president of said, “BSA (Black Student Association) can go.” I can literally be in any club on Xavier’s campus. ANY. But because I am black, the president made the assumption that I was there for BSA. In 2013, we still make assumptions based on the color of people’s skin. Do better.
I understand that nobody is perfect, but as a place where ideas are supposed to be shared and innovations are supposed to be made, I would challenge Xavier to create a more inclusive environment on campus and to address the incidents of bias on campus more effectively.
Alexis Burnett is a senior accounting major from Cincinnati and the treasurer of Delta Sigma Theta.