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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

February 23, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Commentary: Ithaca College needs to handle racism better

An Ithaca College student created a Snapchat video that included her use of a racial slur sometime between Dec. 7 and Dec. 8, and soon after the video went viral. Following this, the administration of Ithaca College, led by Sean Eversley Bradwell of the college’s newly created Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Social Change (IDEAS), invited the entire campus community to an open conversation to help us process the events that occurred. I am a student of color who felt personally attacked by the actions this student took, and I made it a priority to attend this event in the hopes of finding healing and unity in the college’s response to this hateful act.

Disrespected is the best word I have to describe how I felt after the open conversation. I felt disrespected because we were not given the opportunity to discuss the video, the one thing that made all of us come together that day. I felt silenced when each student in attendance was given the opportunity to only say one word to describe how the racism in that video made them feel. I felt like they were humoring us when they gave us the floor and suggested that we offer up solutions, but not allowing us to speak of the solution many of us wanted, like expulsion or any kind of repercussion.

Ithaca College is a school begging for diversity, begging for diverse faces to join their white ranks, but what do they give us as an incentive for joining this campus community? ALANA scholarships and a tolerance for racism? It costs almost $60,000 a year to attend a school that expects us to share halls, rooms, and living spaces with racists. This video is not the first incident of racism on our campus, and this student is not the first example of Ithaca College’s tolerance for it.

I am a student at Ithaca College and I expect to be heard. My skin is brown, and it is beautiful, but I did not always feel this way, and on some days, I still find myself in doubt. There are days when I watch countless videos degrading the color of my skin, days when I read comments telling me that my existence is wrong and that I am a mongrel, days when I can’t keep memories of racially fueled bullying in my childhood from clouding my perception of myself.

When I was in kindergarten other children would call me things like “monkey” and “frizz-ball” on the school bus. I was just a little girl when I heard my first racial slur. I was just a little girl when I cried in confusion from being constantly left out and bullied for features that my mom had told me were beautiful. In high school I was told to go back to where I came from, to go pick cotton like I’m “supposed” to. Boys told me that they wouldn’t date black girls when I would admit I had a crush on them. I suffered through countless racial slurs when all I was trying to do was get an education. Teachers laughed in my face when I tried to receive the justice I knew I deserved. And now I feel that laughter once more.

I felt it when a member of the faculty was chuckling at the start of the forum because they were surprised that we even showed up. I felt it when we were prevented from speaking about the racist video in question (despite the fact that this event was supposed to be an open discussion), and then told that the student will not be facing repercussions because “Ithaca College does not regulate speech.” We were fed lies and slight nods at suggestions of mandatory diversity classes. It was too much, and I felt my stomach reject it. What happens when diversity classes yield nothing? What happens when this kind of blatant racism happens again? What happens to the racism we POC experience on campus and report? What happens now?

I never got the chance to take the mic either; the discussion ended before I was given an opportunity to speak. So, I decided to share my suggestion to the administration in this open letter: Zero-tolerance.

I want every single person of color to feel accepted and backed by the school they pay thousands to attend. I want us to not have to take classes with and share dining halls with students who knowingly share their racism on social media. I want Ithaca College to do better.