Reach out to other people, confront racism together

By: Dominic Sanfilippo – Staff Writer

I’m writing this editorial with a heavy heart. As the director of academic affairs representing our undergraduate student body to the faculty and administrators on the Academic Senate, my charge is to be an advocate for all students on campus to the best of my abilities, to come up with a more transparent, honest and productive relationship between students and the University of Dayton and to improve the academic climate and spirit of this place that we love.

I’ve reserved my comments on op-eds for different venues in the past. Today, however, I have to wade in to represent the many students, faculty, alumni, staff and strangers who were deeply hurt and have posted throughout the last few days in response to the insensitivity and confusing logic of Chris Zimmer’s editorial in issue 20, “Columnist responds to editorials addressing race on campus.”

Chris Zimmer, pondering that bad things can’t be real at our Marianist institution, appeals to our school’s reputation as the 15th Friendliest School in the Nation without context. His final claim that “racism is a myth and is not a reality at our school,” presented as an irrefutable fact, is troubling to many, many people on this campus and off of it. Your words may have been well intended, but they acted as a slap in the face to the people who live with injustice, personal damage and ignorance during their time at UD—and almost every day of their lives. I have sat in hundreds of committee meetings over the past three years with people from President Daniel Curran to the provincial of the Marianist province all the way to tenured faculty, new lecturers and excited, eager first-year students. I can tell you with absolute sincerity that, at times, I have seen quite a bit of argument, disagreement and discord from every single person charged with “running” this place, from the president down. It’s part of working through hard problems; it’s part of being human. Community doesn’t mean ignoring our human weaknesses.

As UD has slowly discovered over the years through administrative changes and social climate reflections, actual community means taking responsibility for our problems and working together to resolve them. Racism and a lack of understanding of the lived experiences of minorities on our campus is most definitely a UD problem. President Curran, Provost Benson and the rest of UD’s staff would tell you that immediately. In his state of the union address to the faculty last month, Provost Benson called out the ugly responses to the student protests and activism from last semester as despicable, and said that it’s our charge – students and faculty and staff – to make sure we face our demons as a community and make sure they don’t continue in the future.

I have enjoyed Zimmer’s Flyer News editorials in the past and don’t mean to isolate him through this. However, I could not, in good conscience, stay silent against this particular editorial.

I am a middle-class, white, third-year from southwest Chicago (which comes with its own landscape, history and embodied experience). I don’t know what it’s like to be a black student, or a Mexican student, or an international student from China, Qatar, Puerto Rico or India on our campus. I don’t know what it’s like to be Muslim, Hindu or Jewish; I don’t know what it’s like to be gay or transgender. I don’t physically, emotionally or personally know what it’s like to look around and see no one like me.

However, time and time again, I have heard stories of desperation from students whose identities have been attacked, their experiences denigrated and their problems ignored by our predominately white, middle-to-upper class student community, who don’t often have to go through these things.

I’ve heard it as an orientation leader, a retreat coordinator, a student government advocate, a tutor and a conflict resolution witness; I’ve heard it as a friend on Kiefaber, in Marycrest and on a weekend walk to Tim’s or Flanagan’s. Thousands of us have heard it and seen it. We cannot change our racial, ethnic or family identity; that’s not the point. The point is to try, together, to step out of our comfort zones and understand others. That’s it.

Racism is a problem on our campus. It’s a problem on every campus in America. It’s a global problem, on so many different levels and amongst so many different groups of people that it’s difficult to grasp. It’s endemic to the human condition. Being Marianist means coming to the table to say the hard things, admit the hard truths, feel the pains and joys of those we stand with, and improve. Together. Brushing entire lived realities under the rug, however intentionally or unintentionally, doesn’t accomplish that. We need to be better, for our university’s sake and for humanity’s sake, as we head out into a messy, chaotic world together.

Please reach out to others on campus, and try to hear their stories. Simply listening and saying “I’m here for you,” can make a world of difference. Small actions and first steps can seem unnecessary, but healing and joy can’t come without them.