Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Sunday, May 27, 2018

Op-Ed: Despite advertising, not all AU students care about racial equality on campus

Op-Ed: Despite advertising, not all AU students care about racial equality on campus

Photo: A student demonstrates at "The Darkening,"  an Dec. 3 movement in solidarity with the national "Black Lives Matter" movement.

The grand jury announcement about the murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri stirred up a hefty load of emotions from the public on Nov. 24. For 100 days, a nation anxiously waited to hear the decision announced by the prosecutor who covered up the truth by firing accusations at the media and the public for blurring information. What he really meant was that the jury agreed with officer Darren Wilson’s decision to shoot unarmed Mike Brown for what was believed to be a minor robbery and would not be indicting this man or sending him to a trial.

As a young, black woman, this outcome reminded me that we still do not live in a post-racial society. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Movement, we still witness police brutality cases where unarmed black men and children are shot and murdered “with probable cause” while their killers walk free of all charges. I fear for the day that I have a child because if I bring a boy into this world, I’m not sure how to go about telling him that no matter what he does, he will be perceived as a threat to everyone around him because of the color of his skin. My people and I are not safe in this country because blackness is still viewed as a danger to society.

AU loves to promote itself as an inclusive community that doesn't just tolerate diversity but embraces it. However, the fact of the matter is that this is not true in the slightest. There are many students that refuse to acknowledge that they have certain advantages based on their socioeconomic background and the color of their skin—they are blind to their pearly-white privilege. White privilege does not inherently make someone a racist, but it is wrong to deny the silver spoonful of entitlement that people have been fed their entire lives.

Last week, I was disgusted and disappointed when I found out that the students at my institution were posting insensitive comments about how race doesn't matter to them on the social media app Yik Yak.

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(My response to this post is that I was never given anything based off of being black, I never had any handouts and I always worked for anything I wanted, too. What does that make me?)

These students are only comfortable expressing their misguided opinions on platforms where they can post anonymously. There are no consequences for their actions and they do not have to take responsibility for being insensitive and ignorant bigots who make offensive and outrageous remarks. This is one prime example of why many minority students at AU do not want to be associated with the rest of the community on campus. The underlying problem at AU is that our peers and faculty fail to acknowledge that there is a huge difference between tolerance and acceptance. AU tolerates race issues within this institution, but refuses to accept them as a real problem. AU students tolerate the presence of black people on campus, but many of them do not fully accept them as peers.

Time and time again, the majority belittles our existence. From questioning the relevance of celebrating 

Black History Month year after year to jokingly proposing the need for a White Student Alliance, the remarks that we have overheard over the years confirm that AU students are disconnected from reality. Some of these students discredit our very presence on this campus and assume that minorities are merely tokens for the diversity count on scholarship. (Some even go as far to argue that it’s unfair that there are even scholarships available for minorities only.) We are not playing the race card— we are shedding light on what our experiences at AU are like every day. Instead of denying our struggles, students should try listening.

In terms of academics, there are so few courses about black history and black popular culture in the curriculum at AU. This year, the sociology department added a White Privilege/Social Justice class, but it was only offered in the fall semester. (Unfortunately, I did not have room in my schedule to register for it, and I regret this the most.) These are the types of classes that should be offered every term and included in the General Education program. Better yet, they should be mandatory requirements. A majority of students at AU major in the School of International Studies with the hopes of obtaining a degree that will allow them to make a difference in the world, but they ignore what’s happening right here in America— it’s ironic and hypocritical.

#BlackLivesMatter is trending and some people out on the world wide web want to argue that all lives matter. While this is true because we are all one race of human beings, we cannot deny that some lives matter more than others based on our nation's history. We are out on the streets protesting because our voices need to be heard, our faces need to be seen, and our stories have to be told. We have remained silent for far too long in the faces of our ancestors that risked their lives to give us the rights that were never intended to belong to us. If you have never been oppressed, you are not in the position to turn around and declare whether or not someone else is. Furthermore, the deaths of unarmed youth are not subjects of joking matters. Period.

Thankfully, not all AU students responded like this. In fact, most of the comments and statuses that I saw on my Facebook news feed and Twitter timeline were flooding with messages of support for Mike Brown. I would like to believe that the latter represent a smaller percentage of our student body, but they still exist on this campus. It is up to all of us to educate them properly because they need to learn their place. The problem is not having an unpopular opinion. The larger issue here is that students at AU hide behind a cloak of anonymity and would never have the courage to say half of these hurtful remarks to any of us in real life because deep down they know how wrong they are in these situations. They would never call us thugs and hoodlums and monkeys to our faces. (With the exception of students that see nothing wrong with calling black people the n-word in passing.) That being said, we, the black community, would rather know that someone is a racist upfront. Unbeknownst to us, our lab partner or the person sitting next to us in class could be one of the students posting these comments on Yik Yak. Not only is that uncomfortable, it is unsettling and it does not make us feel safe on campus.

I applaud the AU students that are fully informed and aware of what has been happening over these past few months and want to be a part of the solution to fixing our country's many social injustice problems. More than 200 students showed up on the steps of the Mary Graydon Center for The Darkening demonstration yesterday, and it was an empowering protest to be a part of. Afterwards, students and faculty shared their concerns and frustrations about Ferguson and dealing with race at AU. Tears were shed, all the same shade. We all have to unite in this fight to change the justice system and eradicate white supremacy. Supporting this cause is important because it affects all of us on some level whether you are a person of color or not. This is much bigger than Mike Brown now-- it’s about natural human rights. Changes need to be made accordingly and I appreciate you all for treating this with the respect, maturity and sensitivity that it deserves.

Thank you to those who acknowledge that my life matters as an African-American and a black woman. When I graduate on May 10, 2015, I want to know that I accomplished something important aside from my personal triumphs. I want to make this campus a safer and more inclusive place for students of color. I can't sit behind my computer screen and hope that my words will make people change their minds anymore-- I have to do what's right because this affects me, my friends and my family.

We have a lot of work to do, but the time to stand with us in solidarity is now. Be the change you want to see in this world and push progress forward. It doesn’t stop in Ferguson-- it starts here at AU.

Sydney Gore is a senior in the School of Communication and serves as the Vice President of Print for the AU Association of Black Journalists and Publicity/Social Media Coordinator of the Student Union Board.

sgore@theeagleonline.com


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