About 23 years ago, someone wrote the N-word on the door of my faculty office in Whittemore Library. That image was later copied and printed on the front page of this newspaper. Many people spoke of this as a watershed moment – that racism was indeed on this campus. The incidents that occurred on campus this past week starkly affirm that it’s still here.
Whether the recent incidents are the result of perverted mischief or an opportunistic expression of hatred, only time will tell. What must be understood is that incidents like this have been, and will continue to be, a part of the fabric of our daily lives at this institution – unless we act to instill fundamental change. Efforts, great and small, have been and will be made, but programs come and go. For institutions such as ours, education is how we drive change, because curricula have lasting impact.
Education can provide the opportunity for students to question their biases and to make decisions from a position of knowledge, rather than one of prejudice and emotion. We need programs of study that enlighten our students to the diverse contributions (and sacrifices) made by people of all backgrounds and orientations to this work-in-progress we call the United States of America. And we need these courses to be requisite for matriculation at this institution.
My experience with the N-word was not my first in the workplace – it was just the first time someone put it in writing. When that incident occurred, I was also older and had resources to draw upon, and people reached out to me. But those resources compared little to the strength I gained from the intellectual foundation received from course work and from faculty who taught in the African-American Studies, Latino Studies, Women’s Studies and Queer Studies programs at my university.
It’s just my opinion, but I think we need to turn from the “teachable moments” philosophy, to one that emphasizes a proficiency in the knowledge of the diverse makeup of our campus – and our nation.