It’s about time: Addressing racism on campus

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Facebook feeds exploded with “To the students of color at the Mizzou, Yale University, Ithaca College, and at all other schools plagued by hatred, we, allies at Lafayette College, stand with you in solidarity. To those who would threaten their sense of safety, we are watching.”

My post came on Thursday, after spending hours reading countless articles from the New York Times, FiveThirtyEight, and NPR. On Friday, Nov. 13, I attended a discussion held by the Association of Black Collegians (ABC) and NIA, a multicultural women’s support group. It was two of the most invigorating and intellectual hours of my life.

After hours of listening and reading, I can justify my opinions about the matter here on Lafayette’s campus.

We have a race issue. Admit it. Everyone who walks through the doors of Portlock Black Cultural Center most certainly does. Lafayette props up the image of diversity but does not support it as fully as it could. Yes, we have wonderful organizations and staff leaders that work tirelessly to create spaces for minorities. Yet, students of color still feel constrained on our campus.

Our school’s commitment to listening to and reacting to students of color’s demands attention. Whether it is the lack of minority presence on staff or the abuse PoC face on Yik Yak, the administration is not doing enough to promote and protect the right diversity here on campus.

On Nov. 13, President Byerly sent out an email about inclusion and diversity that seemed, to me at least, too vague to seriously address the issue at hand. She briefly described the work of Chaplain Alex Hendrickson’s Bias Response Team and Dean of Intercultural Affairs John McKnight’s Social Justice Speaker Series and admired the college community’s “commitment to address this set of issues.” She barely mentioned, however, ABC and NIA’s efforts to have more conversations and programs about the racial divide here on campus.

Byerly’s email, although it most likely had good intentions, came across as a PR stunt that gently skirted around the topic of race, let alone the problem campuses have with it. You can have the token PoC in the admissions pamphlets and the various directors on staff but they only mean something when problems are addressed and resolved.

But the administration cannot take all of the blame. President Byerly spoke at Wednesday night’s #MoreThanMizzou discussion and commended students on their commitment to these conversations. She spoke especially highly of the students that organized the event and how they have worked to reestablish effective communication.

We, the students, must take responsibility for the concealed hate that exists here. Yik Yak, seemingly everyone’s favorite app, allows students to hide behind a screen and write bigoted claims with little to no consequences. The anonymity makes the racism far more cowardly. In Friday’s talk, many of the students admitted that they would rather encounter racism face-to-face so they could call out and correct the ignorance.

But the racism isn’t always so obvious. It’s in the social circles that form, the events people choose to attend and the clubs students join. While many of my peers are active members of social justice groups, just as many are not. I understand that here, we’re all wrapped up in our own little worlds, focused on our academics, our friends and our passions. That is no excuse, however, for apathy and ignorance. We have a race problem and we have to fix it. Don’t hide from it.

What can you do? Attend ABC and NIA meetings. Sit in on campus-wide conversations and listen to social justice lectures. Educate yourself about the divide beyond our Lafayette bubble. Don’t let Yik Yak spiral into a forum for hate. If you encounter racism in any form, call it out. We need to change the way we use language and the way we frame our thinking.

Students of color at Lafayette, I hope that your senses of community, identity and safety are not threatened on our campus. If so, say something and do something. We—the student body, the faculty and the administration—must grow together listen to and respect your voices. Lafayette can and will change.

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