Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Op-ed: Our Shared Responsibility

Student Government President Devontae Torriente responds to the recent events on campus

Op-ed: Our Shared Responsibility

Devontae Torriente, who served as student government president from 2016-2017, reflects on his leadership over the past year. 

Following the U.S. elections on November 8th, a protest which included a flag burning, occurred on our campus the following day. Later during the week, a drawing of a swastika appeared on a classroom wall. With the recent election of the next president of the United States, it became clear that many of our students who have marginalized identities in our community felt a heightened lack of security and safety. To those of us who are people of color, Muslim, Jewish, women, part of the LGBT+ community, transgender or nonbinary or have a disability, we face a very real and imminent threat to our lives and our livelihoods.

However, let me be clear, the oppression we face did not begin on Tuesday, November 8. It did not begin when any votes were cast on election day, nor did it begin when a winner was declared at 3 a.m. the the next day. The hate and discrimination we face has been part of the longstanding culture of this country, a tradition we actively resist and seek to overturn. And as of last week, that resistance rightfully intensified. This goes beyond any one election and any one candidate for so many of us. What we feel is deeply rooted in the contexts of our existences and the histories of identities.

As your student body president leading during a time in which it feels as if every other day something major is happening in our community, I understand how tired many of us are. I understand the fear, uncertainty and exhaustion that seem to plague our community. The solidarity that is yet to come and the work that is yet to be done to protect and uplift our students of marginalized backgrounds is palpable. It is fair for us all to grieve and process what we are experiencing in our own ways. However, once we have regrouped, once we are ready to continue to unapologetically exist in our identities, it is high time to continue our fight for justice.

To those who are afraid, sad, angry, confused or all of the above, know that all that you are feeling is valid. You are allowed to have space as you see fit to process every single emotion you are feeling in order to make it through this difficult time. You are allowed to cry and do what you need to do in order for you to heal. I love and support you, as do so many of us here at AU. Remember that we are here for you when you need us. When you are ready to do the work that is needed moving forward, there are several of us ready to do it alongside you.

Student Government has a renewed focus on promoting and increasing the resources for the students with marginalized identities who need them, especially those living in fear, for now and beyond. We have been working over the past week to devise a set of action steps to figure out how we can best play our role to make our community safe for everyone.

Part of our plan is to be ready to execute those action steps when we return next semester. We have a shared responsibility - not just as members of Student Government, but as members of the microcosm that is AU and of the world beyond it - to do our part to change the world for the better. To those whose efforts will detract us from this responsibility, know that you will be on the wrong side of history for you will be contributing to the deprivation of safety and security that so many of us are experiencing. You will not be doing what you should to make our world a better place.

As long as I am your president, I will continue to use my platform, the one you have given me, to try to provide light in the darkest of times and continue to make strides for us all in the name of equity. As long as I am leading our Student Government, I will do all that I can to invest our resources into supporting our students of marginalized backgrounds in their efforts to resist, heal and continue onward.

It is our duty as individuals with marginalized identities to fight for our freedom. It is the duty of our peers and allies to support us in that battle. As we embark on our journey towards justice, we have to spread love when and where we can. It will be long and it will difficult, but I believe in our collective power to make the change that is needed here at AU and elsewhere, because if not us, then who? And if not now, then when?

Devontae Torriente is a junior in the School of Public Affairs and the 2016-2017 Student Government president.


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