Coming off the heels of the “Can We Talk About It?” discussion, I have a lot to say in response! First, I need to let it be clear that I do recognize the importance that discussion has within communities. However, with that said, I am also critical and skeptical of how far discussion can actually go in terms of creating and allowing for racial equity in any situation, much less a white dominated one such as the one here at SUNY New Paltz. Basically, talk is cheap. Value can only be found when that talk leads to clear action. That is what we need on this campus.
Speaking specifically about the Nov. 30 forum, I will say the end result of said forum was a disappointment to me. I think the idea was a promising one: faculty, staff and students coming together to “discuss issues of racial inequity.” Though it was an improvement of the student-led discussion, I felt that it was too safe and too “we-are-the-world-esque.” It was too much of a visualized and frankly non-existent idea of campus unity that looked pretty for the media who were present. That is NOT what we need. Instead, we need to actively and clearly challenge issues of racial injustice. That cannot happen in simple surface-level discussion about race relations.
The campus president, who set the tone for the event, disappointed me in his introductory remarks. I felt that he focused too much on the “colored only” sticker (though to be fair, it was the “catalyst” for this specific situation on campus). However, he conveniently avoided explicitly discussing the more violently bigoted “Lynch Niggers” signs which were posted in Lefevre Hall soon after. In referencing them, he simply called them “postings in elevators.” That to me showed that this school is definitely not ready for any REAL discussion on racism. While I appreciate that the president is visibly participating in difficult discussion, we also need to be critical of the role he and other administrators play within the leading of these racially-based discussions.
With that said, the next step of many should be that the campus administration, faculty and staff have their own forum; except, it needs to be a mandatory one. This proposed forum needs to be separate from students, and should be taken seriously by all involved. This school is one of the most non-diverse schools I have ever been to especially in terms of the racial composition of faculty, staff and administration. Because of this non-diversity, as a Black woman on the campus, I feel most comfortable in speaking and connecting with only Black Studies professors. Since I can’t deal with only Black Studies professors for my four years here, the lack of comfort I’m sure to face daily with some of my white professors is non-conducive to my educational pursuits. Racial inequity also rears its ugly head in how many of the white professors deal with students of color on campus and in classrooms; issues like this need to be addressed amongst faculty and staff, alone, in their own space. Once that discussion is had amongst them, we can then move forward and discuss these issues collectively as a campus community, otherwise, we will just be smiling for media cameras, and propagandizing an incredibly important situation.
On-campus student organizations also need to step up to the plate, especially clubs and organizations which represent the students of color. We need to take this situation and show some Umoja (unity). I propose that we unite around this issue and clearly show that we will not tolerate racial inequality nor will we tolerate surface-level critiques and discussion that are being led by some of our faculty and administration. We need to take the freedom and opportunities we have here and use it in a way that is beneficial toward our collective identity. Too often within this very white dominated and normative society we become victims of whiteness. We have a very unique and rare opportunity within this microcosm of society; we can actively and loudly combat issues of racial injustice which show themselves on campus. This is an opportunity that we might not always have within the larger context of society. Since we have the platform to clearly do something about it at this level, we need to take this opportunity and challenge injustice, full force. Doing so will pay homage to the beautiful legacy we share as students of color and it will become a part of the legacy we will leave behind for the generations of students of color who will come after we have long gone.