When it comes to derogatory words or actions, public backlash follows a predictable pattern. Often the offending party has a history of incidents in the past that they have gotten away with, but the most recent incident was visible and offensive enough that it couldn’t fail to shock.
During and after the incident there is increased awareness and education, but the incident is soon forgotten. This pattern isn’t just a part of the American media cycle, but also something I have seen on campus when it comes to issues relating to different minority groups.
For the past four years, it has often required offensive statements or actions to be made by privileged parties for students that aren’t direct allies to really participate in the communication and education meant to prevent similar events. To this extent, these kinds of conversations aren’t action, but reaction.
The prefatory event needs to be dropped. It shouldn’t be necessary for an offense to be perpetuated for the education to start. Everyone should bear some responsibility in motivating education.
It’s easy enough for these offensive events to happen. A student assumes something or crosses a line. Sometimes it’s an accident. Sometimes it’s just that no one previously has bothered to correct a person’s assumptions, allowing them to become automatic. In Wisconsin it can be easy to do with many minorities since, for most of us, it’s easy to forget what we are granted automatically by virtue of gender, skin color, sexual preference or socioeconomics.
This is so easy to do that it’s shocking. Just last week I had a conversation about race with a group of friends for the first time. I’ve known them for three years. The ease by which we forget about such issues is strange. They don’t affect us, so they become invisible to us.
That’s what I’m interpreting as privilege. This is made more prevalent because we’re in Wisconsin, and is the primary reason I think we need more prolific education.
Maybe there are some opportunities for change. Around campus, I’ve seen posters about events like LUCC’s “White Privilege Symposium.” I’ve received emails regarding the President’s Committee on Diversity Affairs hosting an event called “Campus Climate: Moving Forward Together.” “Take Back the Night” just happened. The Diversity Center also hosts a plethora of events each term.
But I’m worried that those who need it the most don’t attend these kinds of events unless there is some motivational offensive incident. If you haven’t attended these kinds of events, I urge you to do so soon. Don’t wait for the incident.
It’s eerily similar to the gun control debate in that way. A calamitous event occurs. The country mourns, while speeches and educational events happen. Politicians make promises, and, though everyone is made aware, no action comes of it.
The solution is simple, but challenging. We need more students to be on board who want to be allies for minorities, who are wiling to consider their own privilege, and then discuss it with their peers. No one person, group or educational form will ameliorate these problems. I don’t think words are enough or have never been enough.
These are problems that require actions. Ideas are needed. I like to think that Lawrentians are being given the tools to produce solutions, to work within structures to address stereotypes and stigmas and to discover problems and test solutions.
We need the smart minds of this campus to not just discuss these problems, but to find ways to engage with them. We need vaccines, not antibiotics.