Opinion: On the Student Senate anti-racism statement

By Emma Wonsil, Senior Student Senator 

Along with the normal back-to-school photos, our social media timelines at the beginning of the semester were also filled with names. Names like Keith Scott, Terrence Crutcher, Philando Castile, and Alton Sterling appeared, often accompanied by graphic videos of their death. As tensions rose, cities like Tulsa and Baltimore saw protests and riots. Colleges and universities student governments began to make statements to support the Black Lives Matter movement, such as Grand Valley University and the University of Michigan.

Following these statements, the Aquinas College Student Senate met to discuss the possibility of addressing racism on our campus. During this meeting and those that followed, I looked around and saw my whiteness, my privilege, staring back at me from almost every other senator. From this group of 25 students, we eventually came up with a statement that was released on Sept. 30:

“The Aquinas College Student Senate stands behind and supports our students who feel compromised by the growing tensions and violence due to their race. In light of recent events, our community would like to express condolences to those who have been affected. We will not stand by in silence, but in conjunction with the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, will demand justice. We do not tolerate racism on our campus and will continue to recognize and uplift those students who are directly impacted.”

Perhaps you have seen the statement before you read this article, perhaps not. You might think it was wonderfully executed, or you could think it left quite a bit to be desired. Trust me, I have heard both. Regardless of your perceived quality of the statement, there’s something you should know about it: there was not one black student involved in the process.

As a white female, I kept thinking about how I was randomly afforded the privilege of ignorance. Because I am white, I don’t know what it is like to see people of my skin color reduced to a hashtag as a result of police brutality. I don’t know what it is like to debate if people of my skin color have lives that matter. I don’t know what it is like to explain to the world why people of my skin color are treated as if they don’t matter.

The reality is, most of us at Aquinas don’t know this experience, and we never will. Approximately 81% of Aquinas students just so happened to inherit DNA that resulted in white skin. With this genetic lottery, we have been afforded an advantage that we are often completely unaware of. We don’t notice that we are well-represented in TV shows, movies, and magazines. We don’t notice that when we enter a classroom at Aquinas, we will always be a part of the majority. In that classroom, we will be taught by a professor that looks like us. We don’t know what it is like to doubt if the police will protect us. These are things that we don’t have to think about on a regular basis, and because of that, we are able to remain “impartial” on the deaths of black men and women. We do not feel as if our racial identity is ever compromised, so we do not see a need to address any kind of issue. So how can campus even begin to have a conversation about race and inequality if we have not even acknowledged that there just might be a problem?

There is a point where we must take the responsibility to confront our privilege. It is not the responsibility of our black students to explain any and all discrimination. It is us who have the responsibility to go out to become more aware, and bring a willingness to be changed. After all, we have resources like never before – social media, videos, and books are all at our fingertips. We even have women like Dr. Marcia Chatelain coming to campus on November 3 to speak on the Black Lives Matter movement throughout the day. When we become more aware, then we can engage our surroundings and act. We can amplify voices instead of silencing them. We can stand in solidarity with a movement that was begun, and rightly run, by those affected by racism. Perhaps then we can begin to break the culture of implicit acceptance of discrimination at Aquinas College.

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