While we have returned to Knox for a new term and a new year, the racial wounds from the events of Ferguson and the unrelenting stream of shootings of unarmed black Americans are still fresh and largely unaddressed. Over winter break we felt compelled to comment on the state of tension between students and the administration over the lack of action on the clear and present racism that is thriving on the national level and, painfully, still on campus. This is not an issue that has gone away.
In the wake of Ariyana Smith’s protest, the administration was quick to roll out an open forum for those students and staff still on campus. They also promised another forum upon the general population’s return to campus this January. This week the campus received an email explaining the school’s events for MLK Day, including a teach-in concerning national events such as Ferguson and addressing racism both in the national narrative and here on campus.
While we do believe that the teach-in is a step up from simply offering another open forum, we remain skeptical of the administration and their dedication to addressing student grievances of racism on campus and the weight of national events.
This skepticism is not unfounded. All too frequently when the student body is upset over administrative action, a forum is rolled out and the issue is brought into the public sphere and then slowly forgotten about. A prime example of this is the #DaretoCare campaign.
The end of last year saw new posters in all the restrooms, a hashtag and the highly publicized speaker Jackson Katz. While the administration has continued to address the inherent problems with the grievance panel structure, the emphasis on addressing the underlying problems of rape culture seem to have fallen away. The posters have disappeared; the hashtag is only seen on the occasional magnet or folder on campus.
While these small items are not the answer to addressing rape culture, they did play an important role in mindfulness and the dedication required to sustain the ongoing conversation that is crucial for campus self-reflection and improvement. We believe the fight to address racism deserves the same center stage attention and do not want to see the issue fall by the wayside after MLK Day.
However, to place the full spectrum of blame and expectations on the administration would be shortsighted. To put it bluntly, we expect so much more of the Knox campus when it comes to fighting for social justice. As a community, Knox prides itself on a dedication to social justice and the notion of becoming a “global citizen.” While it is the administration’s responsibility to ensure these concepts are being taught and demonstrated from the top down, it is ultimately up to the students to embody the vision of social progress.
For all the well-deserved outrage over the school’s handling of sexual assault cases and the administrative response to Ariyana’s protest, there has been a noticeable lack of attendance at the open meetings of Student Senate and speakers that have visited to elaborate on the issues crucial to building a more inclusive and welcoming community.
It’s time to step up and do something. The campus needs to attend the sponsored events next Monday if it expects to be taken seriously. In order to show the severity of the national dialogue and how race issues have penetrated the Knox community as well, the administration needs to hear stories from those who are willing to express their stories of racism and exclusion here at Knox.
As for everyone else, it is crucial that the teach-ins be well attended. If they are done well, the more privileged students should be able to walk away with new thoughts and ideas on how they can become part of the solution rather than the problem. And if the teach-in is not done well it is equally important that those same people step up afterwards and explain why the event was not successful.
The administration certainly has their job cut out for them, but so does the student body. Know that we will be watching and reporting on these issues in order to do our part to keep them in the campus dialogue.