By: Dominic Sanfilippo – Staff Writer
I wrote this editorial with a heavy heart. As the director of academic affairs representing our undergrad student body to the faculty and administrators on the Academic Senate, my charge is to represent all students on campus to the best of my abilities, to facilitate a more transparent, honest, better relationship between students and the University of Dayton, and to improve the academic climate and spirit of this place that we love.
In my job, I usually try to stay out of intense editorial debates and represent the heart of the majority of student feeling; but today, I am compelled to wade in and raise my own voice for the students and alumni who were deeply hurt and have posted on social media throughout the day in response to the insensitivity and confusing logic of Chris Zimmer’s editorial Wednesday, “Columnist responds to editorials addressing race on campus.”
Chris, ponderings that bad things can’t be true at our Marianist institution, appeals to our school’s reputation as the 15th Friendliest School in the Nation out of context and presenting your final claim that “racism is a myth and is not a reality at our school” 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 have been acting as a slap in the face to the people who have had to 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 Marianists all the way to tenured faculty, new lecturers and excited, eager students who are there to present on their lived experiences on UD’s campus. 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 on down. It’s part of working through hard problems; it’s part of being human. Community doesn’t mean ignoring our human weaknesses.
Actual community means – as UD has slowly discovered over the years through administrative changes and social climate reflections –taking responsibility for our problems and working together to resolve them. Racism and a lack of understanding of the lived experiences of the 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, speak up and support one another going forward.
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. I am a middle class, white junior from southwest Chicago (which comes with its own landscape, history and 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 the countless pains and 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 leader, a student government advocate, a tutor and a conflict resolution witness; I’ve heard it as a friend on Kiefaber, in Marycrest and on the walk to Tim’s or Flanagan’s. Thousands of us have heard it and seen it. We cannot change our racial, ethnic, social, geographic 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, 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.