Racism exists even on campus
This past Wednesday evening, I left my dorm room in Centennial Hall and went to Tenleytown for dinner with a few friends after classes.
When we boarded the AU shuttle in order to return to campus, we were not asked to show our AU identification cards. Even though students are technically required to show their cards every time they board the shuttle, it is not out of the ordinary for a driver to let students on the bus without doing so. In my experience, there has never been any difficulties regarding unauthorized passengers on the shuttle buses because the driver had not checked for cards.
This evening, however, the bus driver asked to see our ID cards after we had been sitting on the bus for a few minutes already, waiting for it to fill up. We produced our cards, wondering why the driver was conducting a check at that time. Apparently, the driver had decided to check for IDs after a young black man, possibly of Caribbean descent and very well-dressed, boarded the bus with his rolling backpack and a laptop case. He was the only black person on the bus. Because the ID check began with his entrance, he perceived that the bus driver was discriminating against him on account of his race. So, this young man demanded that all IDs be checked, and the bus driver obliged his request with that oddly timed ID check.
The young man was probably still angry about his treatment, though, as he began arguing with the bus driver over what he deemed an unfair application of the ID check policy. If the policy is that every individual must produce an ID card upon boarding, he asked, then why wasn't the bus driver following it?
The bus driver replied that he recognized the other passengers of the bus as they were boarding, which is why he didn't ask to see their IDs. He simply didn't recognize this young man, and that is why he asked for his ID specifically, he explained.
In a desperate, straining tone, this young black man kept asking when things were ever going to change. It's 2004, after all, he said.
While the incident that transpired on this bus was troubling in and of itself, I was more disturbed by the attitudes of several of the passengers of that bus. One female passenger confronted the young man, essentially dismissing his arguments. She needed to get back to school, she said. She had other stuff to do and couldn't afford to be delayed by a debate over whatever slight this young man felt he received. Another female passenger muttered under her breath something along the lines of: "Seriously, oh my God. Shut up!"
I am well aware that it is finals week. Like every other serious student, I had work awaiting me back in my dorm room. However, the fact that these students at AU, a school that is striving to be a premier institution on a global level, would deem a few minutes spent discussing real-life issues of racial discrimination unworthy of their time is telling.
In a university where so many students are majoring in various politically oriented areas, presumably so that they might serve the population, it seems rather ironic to me that students are too wrapped up in their grades to even acknowledge some of the problems that face our society today when they observe them firsthand.
Perhaps the incident on the bus was indicative of the closed-mindedness and shortsightedness of some of our peers. Perhaps the University's general-education efforts and recruitment of high numbers of international students have proven ineffective at making its students more socially aware.
In any case, I was deeply disappointed by what I observed on the AU shuttle and hope that this letter will call awareness to the difficulties facing the AU community.
Jennifer Zurek is a sophomore in the School of Internation Service and College of Arts and Sciences.