“Which month can we make White History Month? How can there be Black Greek organizations and a Black Student Association? Why is there an orientation program for students of color? No way! Aren’t things supposed to be equal?”
Since the Trayvon Martin verdict of 2013 race relations across the country have reached a volatile state. Students of color are making their voices heard in a variety of ways on college campuses all across the nation. In November of 2013, a group of Black males from the University of California at Los Angeles produced a spoken word video that went viral. The video claimed that the school’s number of NCAA championships outnumbered the population of Black male freshmen.
On Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students of color at the University of Michigan handed the university demands for resources and representation and promised to be “increasingly valiant in our physical activism for social progress” if the demands were not met in seven days.
This issue also arose locally as early as September of last year when cartoons distributed at the University of Cincinnati provoked an irate reaction. The university executives responded by sponsoring a speaker series to promote inclusivity.
Before Thanksgiving Break, a group of students at Xavier University protested the fencing of the outdoor basketball court. Many of those students believed the decision to be racially motivated, and thus, not in agreement with the values of the university.
“Racism is still prevalent and these offices and organizations are support systems for students whose cultures have been historically oppressed and marginalized.”
The above sentence is an example of how someone might answer the questions posed at the beginning of this article. While that answer is extremely valid, it could be hard to understand for some people who do not have experience dealing with the matter I want to take this opportunity to explore an alternative answer.
Have you ever had to ask yourself any of these questions? What type of language can I use to make sure people respect me and know that I can operate in a broader context than just within my racial background?
How do I choose my wardrobe to not fulfill the stereotype of my people but also be genuine to my own self? If everything I do is a representation of all people that look like me, what do I wear, how do I talk, how do I act? What can I do to not be stared at every time I enter a room, or anytime my class mentions anything about Africa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Black History?
Do they assume I speak a different language? How do I both identify with those of my own race but also distance myself from the stereotypes aligned with people that look like me? Are people looking at me because it’s the first day of school or because they have never seen anyone who looks like me in-person before? Should I go by a nickname so the teacher and the other students don’t butcher my real name?
Can I tell them I like a certain sport not associated with my race, or would they think I am not authentic enough? What about music? Environments that create thoughts like these are often times unintentional and do not affect every student in the same way. Nonetheless, the situation is real and creates an uncomfortable tension.
This leads me to both my answer and the main point of this editorial. Offices like the Multicultural, Gender, & Women’s Center and Black Greek organizations exist to help historically marginalized group of students function in an environment where they have to ask themselves questions like the ones above and countless others on a regular basis.
For this reason, it is a major issue when the university decides to “restructure” support offices without working with the students whom those offices are designed to serve. It is a major issue when university policies do not support the executive expert on diversity and inclusion. That is why people “feel some type of way” when a comment during a class discussion suggests reverse racism is equally present as traditional racism because minority students gain “special privileges” for being students of color.
That is one of many reasons students protested the roundabout exclusion of a certain group of people from a largely used community asset on university premises. How can we consider ourselves living in solidarity with others if our attitudes and policies do not support the mission statement’s “inclusive environment”?
Reexamine the way you look at diversity and stand with initiatives designed to make Xavier a more inclusive environment. Disclaimer: All views are my own and in no way represent the views of all the other students of color on campus.
Chuma Nnawulezi is a junior from Omaha, Neb., in the Philosophy, Politics & the Public program.