The Gizmo was packed with concerned students, faculty and staff last Thursday for a forum about race relations on campus, organized after a controversial sports column The Knox Student published a week before. It was intimidating for the Editorial Board in attendance as more and more concerned community members piled into the room, but as the talk progressed through frustration, anger, hope and confusion, it was liberating to be able to look at our peers and talk with them. We felt the forum opened the door to a much freer and wider campus discourse about these issues we cannot, of course, expect to go away in a single night.
It was a unique experience to have an open discussion of this size and honesty, and we could not help but leave the Gizmo later that night with a desire for this atmosphere of honest, passionate dialogue to continue. And it has. In fact, ABLE hosted a discussion Tuesday, and their president senior Tiffany Bradley has laid out a plan for keeping the conversation alive in the article “Race discussion continues at ABLE” on page 3.
What we have heard from our community since we ran this column has shaped and influenced how we make decisions, and has focused our attention on continued efforts to improve ourselves while continuing to be an important part of our shared campus life. Discussing how to handle controversial aspects of this week’s issue we, the editors, have often repeated the phrase, “Well, at the forum, people said…”
So thank you to everyone who has written us feedback, letters to the editor, attended the forum or approached an editor and discussed your feelings with us.
Please keep sending us thoughts so this conversation does not move underground again.
A perfect example of staff discussion led by thoughts voiced by people at both the forum and in other ways is our decision this week to print sports news stories reported by Merritt Rohlfing, the author of the controversial sports opinion published column two weeks ago. A majority of people upset by the column and angry with Merritt expressed both to us as editors and to Merritt personally during the forum that they were eager not to simply demonize Merritt, but to make this a learning experience for him and those who may have shared his uninformed views on race.
Before Merritt was allowed to write for The Knox Student again he was required to write an apology for the hurt he caused the campus community and we set a stipulation for him to come back to write news stories (not opinions) for The Knox Student: he must honestly make the effort to completely understand why his column was problematic, that he must understand the impact that such statements can have on a population. After some grueling discussions with him leading up to the publication of his apology in last week’s issue and his presence at the forum Thursday, in which he was not let off lightly by his peers for what he said, we feel Merritt has learned a lot, and is taking action to educate himself more as time goes on. This is something we all need to do.
A major theme of the forum was that the racial issue Merritt’s column brought to the fore goes deeper than just Merritt: his column was the product of a worldwide, largely unspoken bias. As such, we felt it would be unfair to cast him as a pariah by stopping him from writing for The Knox Student. Because his sports news reporting has been strong and consistent, and because Merritt is so eager and ambitious as a writer, we feel it will be more helpful to the community and Merritt to get him reporting again.