Synthesis – Racism not ‘a thing of the past,’ still alive on campus

John Winstead mug

John Winstead

During my three years at WKU, four friends of color have independently told me they have had racial slurs yelled at them while they were walking to or from class. If students respond to this claim with indifference since it is “only” four students, they should ask themselves how many times they have gone through the same scenario. If the answer is none, they’ll know exactly how many times a student should experience a racial slur.

These are not isolated incidents. They speak to a larger problem of tolerance to racism that America has accepted ever since it first denied the personhood of black slaves. Whether it was the Three-Fifths Compromise or the “colorblind” justification of Nixon’s war on drugs, history has shown us that white people are exceptional at justifying their unjust actions. That self-justification is an intellectual cocoon that prevents white people from grappling with the lived marginalization that many people of color experience in their everyday lives.

It is easy to think racism is only a thing of the past. It is easy to assume no one is discriminated against anymore — especially when you are not part of the group that faces discrimination. It is easy to speak over those who face prejudice when you are part of the group in power. But history has shown us repeatedly that the easy thing to do is not always the moral thing to do. They are, in fact, almost never the same.

When it comes to making changes, students’ acknowledging oppression is not enough. The administration is also accountable for the policies — or lack thereof — that affect students of color. There are some clear steps the administration can take to ameliorate the marginalization many students of color feel on this campus.

First and foremost, there needs to be a Black Cultural Center on black students’ terms. This issue has been brought up so many times, it feels cliché to bring it up again.

Second, there needs to be a streamlined, accessible way for students of color to formally address their grievances to the administration. President Gary Ransdell could hold an event similar to the LGBT ice cream social or at least have an annual meeting to touch base with the Black Student Union. Putting forth efforts to reach the community would make the administration more accessible.

Third, there must be more professors of color. Diversity on campus is not just a student issue. Having professors who can empathize with their students will make WKU a more hospitable environment for students of color.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is definitely a start. When are these policy changes going to materialize? To paraphrase Angela Davis, we are no longer accepting the things we cannot change; we are demanding change for the things we can no longer accept.