First steps to building community

Joey Ferber – Senior, English

Editor’s note: The ending of the online version of this story has been revised to reflect the email “Respecting the Dignity of Every Person” sent to all UD students from President Daniel Curran’s office mailbox Nov. 16.

College students have once again brought instances of on-campus racism to attention through the recent events at the University of Missouri. Here at UD, we have been experiencing similar concerns, albeit away from the scope of national media. The back and forth on Yik Yak and Facebook, specifically related to debates over the nickname “The Ghetto” for the student neigh­borhood parallels the negative online culture created at the Uni­versity of Missouri where a white male student made death threats to black students via Yik Yak.

We could be the next na­tional story. We could be the next University of Missouri.

These debates show differ­ing definitions of “community” on campus and a widespread inability for many to see past their own perspectives. Yes, I am specifically addressing white students: We need to lis­ten to and believe the stories of our peers in order to acknowl­edge that inequality exists and move closer to effective change.

University of Missouri leaders failed to listen to and trust the stories of black students. Stories that didn’t fit with the narrative these leaders knew and were comfortable with. As a “com­munity,” we have failed to trust the stories of our peers simply because they shake up every­thing that we know as normal.

It may be hard to grasp, but our existence and presence as white makes us accountable for the racist system in which we live, regardless of our beliefs, inten­tions and actions. The acknowl­edgment that “yes, we benefit from our race” is necessary to get past the first mental roadblock. Once we recognize our role in a racist history and national sys­tem, the serious work of under­standing how such racism affects our beliefs and lifestyles can truly begin. Acknowledgment that racism is not the plague of some but an infection to all is perhaps the most important first step towards empathizing with those different from ourselves.

I urge all students, staff, facul­ty and administration at the Uni­versity of Dayton to talk less and listen more—to be open. Don’t be comfortable in what you know. Strive to learn something new and question, without defensiveness and with curiosity. Accept that experience is subjective and that everyone’s experience is valid. If you are comfortable, you are missing something. Understand­ing takes willingness to learn from discomfort and pain. It takes being open to change.

This is a difficult thing to do. We tend to feel comfort­able in the “way things have always been.” But remember, that “way” is just one of many.

(Personally, I feel that I can­not express the extent of my true feelings about the blindness and delusion on this campus be­cause such expressions would be dismissed by readers or simply unpublishable. What will it take for UD to hold itself to its own standards of so­cial justice and publicly condemn those who plague our communi­ty with hatred? A hunger strike? National television? Community members: There are people on campus trained in having these difficult conversations. Don’t hesitate to reach out. Don’t accept that you are current­ly the best version of yourself. Challenge each other to grow.