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Friday, September 25, 2020

Students talk racial climate, exclude administration

Students hosted an unofficial event in the Miller Hall Collaborative space on Wednesday, Dec. 2.  // Photo by Christina Becker
Students hosted an unofficial event in the Miller Hall Collaborative space on Wednesday, Dec. 2. // Photo illustration by Christina Becker

The racial climate of Western’s campus and recent hate speech on social media were the center of discussion at the student-led dialogue, “For the Record,” on Wednesday, Dec. 2.

More than 30 students met in the Miller Hall Collaborative Space for an open forum to share their experiences without the presence of faculty and staff.

Students were informed about the event through word of mouth, vinyl records that were hung around campus and the social media platform Yik Yak.

Senior Sreilak Mao said she felt more comfortable expressing herself without faculty members present. The lack of an administrative presence allowed her to connect with other students of color going through similar experiences, she said.

The event was left “intentionally unapproved” by Western administrators to emphasize the importance of student-led discussion, according to the flyers at the event. Student organizers of the event said students were worried administrator involvement would be negatively perceived and lead to the event getting prematurely shut down.

During the event, students in the collaborative space who were not participating were asked to leave. This was done in an effort to maintain a safe space and give students the opportunity to speak up without feeling threatened.

During discussion in small groups, Mao shared her frustration with being broadly categorized as Asian, when she said she strongly identifies as Cambodian. Students in attendance acknowledged and reaffirmed Mao’s feelings of being compartmentalized.

Other student-led dialogue was centered mainly on whether or not students of color felt supported and safe on campus.

Junior Amber Brown said she no longer feels safe on campus in light of recent hate speech targeted at students of color on social media. Brown and her sister, Breanna Brown, said they hope recent events will motivate students to educate themselves about racism on campus.

Junior Anel Ruiz said she thinks discussion surrounding the issues of racism need to be truly all-inclusive.

Before discussion began, students of color were encouraged to speak up. White students were advised this event was not “an event for education” but a time for listening and were asked to give speaking priority to students of color.

To protect the identities of the event organizers, Stephanie Sisson said she was asked to read these parameters to attendees at the beginning of the event.

Sophomore Alicia Christianson expressed disagreement with the setup of the meeting.

“People want to mobilize into segregated groups of minorities,” Christianson said. “They’re almost excluding the white students from attending these group sessions and efforts, and I don’t necessarily agree with that.”
Christianson said she also feels the discussion was blown out of proportion.

“How can you advocate equality and then exclude certain groups of people?” Christianson said. “I’m not saying that people shouldn’t feel a sense of camaraderie in their skin color and culture, but that’s not the only thing that ties people together.”

As a person of color, Ruiz said she has not personally experienced being attacked because of her race. She said she found the discussion to be very constructive to her perception of racism.

“It’s really important that people are getting together and sharing ideas,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said she thought students were more comfortable speaking up because the discussion did not seem as official as it may have with administrator involvement.

There is a lot of diversity on Western’s campus, Ruiz said, and the opportunity to hear and share different ideas has helped her realize the importance of being a minority, sharing ideas and not staying silent.

Students were encouraged to continue expressing their thoughts and feelings. The organizers of this event hope to have more events like this in the future.

Editors note: The Western Front made an exception to cover this story with special conditions. The Front would not take photos in the collaborative space or approach students for interviews for the story.

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