OPINION: Systemic racism and the university’s efforts to make change

Photo of the University of Dayton.

Zoe Hill
Opinions Staff Writer

This semester, the University of Dayton community has shown what we must do to come together in the midst of this global pandemic.

Now more than ever before, or at least as far as I can tell, UD is also committed to becoming an anti-racist university. I have to believe that this is in correlation with the continued civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd this summer. 

Just this past month, our campus has seen an anti-racist march and rally, as well as an acknowledgment of UD’s systemically racist beginnings.

A letter from the campus secretary in 1930 to W.E.B. Du Bois briefly, but unmistakably, defined the anti-Black agenda of the university.

Du Bois wrote to the university to determine the Black enrollment on campus. According to the letter, UD had one Black graduate, Jesse V. Hathcock, who was an exception to their rule that Black students could only attend law and night classes.

The precedent was set based on the racist ideology that enough white students were uncomfortable with integration given that they originated from the south. The southern population on campus that year was about 4% of students. 

It is upsetting to confirm that this is a part of our history here at UD, but President Eric Spina’s response was encouraging on behalf of the university.

“Facing our past is a prerequisite to moving forward in an anti-racist manner,” Spina said this week.

It was refreshing to see that this discovery was met with shame and perseverance rather than ignorance from UD. It seems almost commonplace for people and institutions to bury evidence of wrongdoing in an attempt to seem progressive. 

We have to accept that this university and this country were both built on a system that discriminates against Black people, and only then can we make a promise to move beyond that.

That is what I hope that this university can do, and I am excited to see the beginning stages of that already unfolding.

This cannot be achieved, however, by ignoring our nation’s history, blinding ourselves from Black culture, and deeming efforts towards equality as un-American.

In President Donald Trump’s executive order condemning diversity training, he claims that these programs host the idea that this country is “irredeemably racist.” And while I do not agree with the order, I do not believe his justification is true either. This country is not irredeemable. It is moronic and ignorant to disregard our country’s past; it happened, but we can be redeemed. 

When I look at the progress UD has made and has promised to continue since June, I can see a glimmer of redemption. 

When I hear President Trump say that diversity training needs to come to a halt because it does not promote pride in our country, confusion falls over me. If inclusion is not an American value, who are we to champion discrimination? If promoting diversity is not patriotic, is that to say racism is? 

When I reflect on the discriminatory practices this country was built on, I am not “proud” to be an American. Systemically denying opportunity to other Americans does not give me a sense of patriotism. Torturing, killing, and imprisoning Black Americans is not my picture of the American Dream. 

I am proud to be an American when I see efforts like UD’s to actively move in the direction of inclusivity and diversity. I get a sense of patriotism when I get to experience the melting pot of cultures and identities even in  our little slice of Dayton. My ideal image of the American Dream is unity by celebrating everyone’s differences. 

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