Two AU students are on a mission to spark an on-campus dialogue about race after the murder of unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in February.
School of Public Affairs sophomores and Black Student Alliance President Cheria Funches along with BSA member Ivanna Solano said the AU community has remained largely silent on the issue. Solano and Funches are determined to break the silence.
“People feel uncomfortable talking about race, gender and class,” Funches said. “We’re not comfortable going out of our comfort zone. And I think that speaks volumes about our campus as a whole.”
To foster conversation, BSA plans to organize a weeklong, campus-wide campaign to discuss issues of race and racial profiling next semester. Funches and Solano could not be reached as to why the campaign is starting next semester.
“We want all different culture groups to come out together and campaign, to disregard stereotypes, to get rid of the artificial conversation and get to know each other at an intimate level,” Funches said.
According to statistics from AU’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, the ethnic breakdown of all students the fall of 2011 was:
• 50.4 percent white,
• 6.8 percent black,
• 7.7 percent Hispanic
• 10.9 percent international
• 5.8 percent Asian-American/Pacific Islander,
• 0.5 percent Native American,
• 2.1 percent multiracial
• and 15.9 percent unknown.
BSA held its first planning meeting for the campaign on April 8 and invited representatives from all student organizations to participate. However, the turnout was small, according to Funches.
Solano thinks the weak response was due to short notice and does not reflect a lack of interest to engage in racial issues from the AU community. She believes it is still an important conversation to have, especially to dispel stereotypes.
“Because of the society which we live in, we place certain labels on certain people because we’re socialized to think that way,” Solano said. “I think that’s why this campaign will be so powerful. Blacks are not homogenous. Everyone is different. No one is a model person for their ethnicity or their race.”
Funches added that racial stereotyping happens daily on campus but goes unnoticed.
“It does happen and it happens a lot,” she said, “within our classrooms, in dialogue with professors and dialogue with students.”
She also shared a specific stereotype that she’s experienced.
“A prime example is an idea that, ‘oh yeah, she’s an African-American female, so she must be strong-headed, loud and possibly angry,’” Funches said. “I know that’s something that’s been put on my plate before.”
Racial profiling on campus is another issue Funches and Solano hope to address during the campaign.
Solano is convinced that participating in the campaign is just as much a part of a college education as the courses students take.
“We need to educate ourselves on our races, so we can destroy the ignorance, because it is hurtful,” she said. “We are here to learn, not only in the classroom, but also from each other.”
Clarification: A previous version of this article did not list the percentage of the AU student population that identified as “Hispanic” or “international.” 7.7 percent of AU students self-reported as Hispanic
and 10.9 percent self-reported as international.