In this modern national landscape of political, social and moral division, it is easy to put responsibility on the “other” instead of examining our own beliefs, actions and words, especially as young people. It was, as I’m sure many of you know, older white folks who delivered 45 his narrow victory in the electoral college. Trump-ism is a symptom of our sick society and as citizens we have the responsibility to look at ourselves and how we enable this sickness. Specifically, I want to look at our own campus.
We have had a contentious past couple of years surrounding diversity, inclusion and reparations. Following a national trend, a group of students of color asked CODA to release a list of demands that would, if fulfilled, require the university to reapportion funds in order for our campus to be a more comfortable place for students of color. The demands would create language courses for native speakers and more programs for marginalized national, racial and ethnic identities. The list also aimed to create a more representative faculty and staff. The demands divided a lot of people and the list remains contentious to this day.
While POC and white students fell on many sides of this debate, I want to focus on those who were more concerned with the methods as opposed to the actual demands. Many, mostly white, students never even mentioned the substance of the list, instead they complained about the way in which professors were named or they picked one demand to complain about.
I bring up the list of demands not to open old wounds but to point something out. While the buzz words “diversity and inclusion” and “reparations” are thrown around a lot on this campus, I have rarely heard any frank discussions or opinions, especially from white students, about what we, as a campus, should do to limit or, ideally, prevent the suffering that often comes when a POC attends a predominantly white institution.
Diversity and inclusion are not reparations. If one group needs to be included into another, rarely is the latter the one that needs to change. In this case, Lawrence, a historically predominately white university, wants to “include” POC and other marginalized folks into a historically white space. Reparations imply that wrongdoing is being admitted and efforts to genuinely right wrongs are being made, especially by financial means.
White liberals (myself included) need to do some serious work in order to determine what we actually believe will help our peers and how much of our privilege and recourses we are willing to give up. I am not writing this letter to shame someone for liking Colman’s new look or for loving LUaroo, but, the truth is, if we believe that our campus is suffering from institutional racism (which it is), then it is our job to discuss solutions and solutions need money. It isn’t just enough to say that you are antiracist. We live in a community with a problem and as leaders, friends, mentors and colleagues we owe it one another to be part of the solution.
When I came to this realization, the question I asked was, “If my beliefs and ideas are not helping my community now, how can they?” The biggest answers I have arrived at are listening and empathy. If our goal is to help, then we should start at finding a solution. A solution to this problem needs to make all of our peers safe, happy and hopefully successful. In order to find what I think is the most appropriate solution, I need to listen to my peers with different experiences and trying to imagine how I would feel if I were being treated this way. Only once we know what is happening and how it impacts our peers can we solve these problems.
Liberalism is not just something we employ for social credit; it is central to the pedagogy of our shared Lawrence education. We must seek to find new solutions to the problems of modern society as a community.