LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
My name is Kimberlee Ward, and I am a graduate student at Miami University. I am in the Student Affairs in Higher Education masters program. Lately, I have asked myself: when does the conversation start? In addition, where does it happen? Particularly, who do we think is responsible for starting these conversations?
I am talking about the conversation about race. I know some people may be thinking "here we go again" but if we were truly honest with ourselves we would realize that conversation across campus has not begun. The environment that people of color are in at Miami is generally not inviting and we need to own that. We need to own that because the second foundational goal of Miami's 2020 plan is to "promote a diverse culture of inclusion, integrity, and collaboration that deepens understanding and embraces intercultural and global experiences." I do not want "embrace" to mean being excited about increased enrollment of international and students of color, nor do I want it to mean attending the UniDiversity Festival then calling it a day.
I am trying to start this conversation because of the experiences I have had on this campus as a Black woman, and more recently, what one of my friends read on Yik Yak around 1:30 a.m. on Sept. 20, 2015. Before she told me what she read, she said she did not want to say anything because it would ruin my night and that to me, is already problematic. We, as Black women on this campus, as well as other students of color, are not only trying to figure out how to work through what we see in the news about police brutality, our anxiety, the racism we experience here, and the microaggressions we receive, but we are also trying to save each other from the pain this causes. The Yik Yak stated, "Chimp convention 2k15 got a little too rowdy in Armstrong." This comment reflects my "here we go again."
Being called a "chimp" is racist, offensive and harmful. Equally, being labeled as an animal is to be seen and treated as less than. Being compared to an ape or monkey dates back to the coon caricatures of the 1800s. The coon caricatures were created during this time to show that Black peoples were less than, and therefore, were not deserving of the same rights as White peoples. It was an attempt to justify the ghastly mistreatment of Black peoples
Moreover, how are we going to hold that person responsible? We cannot, but we can recognize that some who saw it are able to go about their daily lives the next day without thinking twice about it. That is their privilege. We can recognize that person had the ability to delete it, but we do not have the ability to just delete what we experience or feel on a daily basis.
Again, my goal here is for people to start more conversations that are widespread because this topic is important. I heard multiple times during the Office of Residence Life training this summer about the numbers Miami has, but not what is being put in place to better support these students. One approach is to examine what is already being done and invest more into those programs/offices, and "invest" does not have to mean money.
Lastly, I aim to give students a voice on this campus. I want students of color and other students with marginalized identities to feel like they have a voice here. I am trying to find my voice as well. Part of me wants to leave this campus, and I want members of the university to recognize that there are students who are feeling similar or have already left because of those feelings. Therefore, as educators, administrators, faculty, and staff, we must do better, we must stop placing the onus on students. They are not the problem. I no longer want us to be silenced or feel like we are just a number on this campus. We are strong, we are intelligent, we are beautiful, we are unique and we matter.