Originally published Feb. 19, 2014
Co-written with editorial board
There are no words to communicate our shock and distaste for the biased incident recently reported to have occurred in one of Grand Valley State University’s freshman living centers. According to reports that first began circulating through Instagram, an African American student in Copeland Living Centers found threatening messages on the white board mounted on her dorm door. Someone had written “F—- black history month” and “Black b—— die,” and the phrases were accompanied by a terrifying drawing of a person — labeled “black” — being hanged.
With complete incredulity, we can only step back and say, “seriously?” What has to be going on in a person’s mind to pause at someone’s door, conceive of a despicably racist phrase and violent image, and commit to communicating it? What discourse did the offender think s/he was furthering? Why did they think this message was worth the time to communicate?
If the act was committed in humor for shock effect, the offender has been sorely misguided in his/her idea of comedy. Racism is not funny—especially not when paired with violence.
Dean of Students Bart Merkle said in Claire Fodell’s front page article that the entire campus community should be outraged.
He needn’t worry. We are beyond outraged.
This act is humiliating and painful to view—certainly for our fellow African American students, but also for anyone capable of thoughtfulness, tolerance, respect and empathy.
Discrimination is not Grand Valley. Hatred is not Grand Valley. Ignorance is not Grand Valley.
We, as a community of students and open-minded thinkers, are being terribly misrepresented by these types of acts.
The timing of the message is just as disheartening.
Just last week, GVSU hosted an open discussion between students in the company of administrators so that students could communicate their experiences and complaints. The event was geared toward African Americans and was hosted partly in response to a Twitter campaign wherein students used the hastag #bbgvsu (being black at GVSU) to expose their confrontations with racial ignorance and discrimination.
Some participants noted, with great shock from listeners, that they had been victimized in the classroom or the dorm by people who freely used the word “colored” or were curious about “nappy hair.”
To hear the stories and know that, in many cases, offending students go uncorrected is disheartening.
To the administrators at GVSU, we know that you work to fight discrimination and encourage inter-cultural community building through a number of programs. But it seems as though many students here still dwell in ignorance and hatred. The ones who most need to learn tolerance and respect are likely not the ones voluntarily investing time in the inter-cultural competence programs.
Perhaps intercultural competence needs to be a mandatory element of student development. Perhaps guidance is needed in the form of necessary General Education requirements that address contemporary forms of discrimination and encourage students to recognize all who are different as fellow human beings with feelings and needs and rights.
It is absolutely terrifying that, at the college level, some people still need to be taught respect.
Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2014/02/no-words