The following statement was developed as a group with input from many members of the SIUE Women’s Studies Program, both faculty and students. We join in solidarity with students who have already been working to draw attention to such incidents and to push back against them. If you want to get involved, check out the Solidarity and Activism Starter Kit we developed last year.
We have chosen not to keep an image of the note mentioned in this Statement as part of the Statement itself, so as to avoid recapitulating the harm it does. There are times when quoting terrible speech only slightly lessens its force. If you want to see that note, you can find it here, but we cannot well support black students, faculty, and staff if we force them to encounter it in the course of reading a message of support.
Monday, September 18, 2017
On Wednesday night, September 13 of 2017, a Black student at SIUE returned to their housing in Cougar Village to find a note on their door reading “filthy (plural n-word).”
For a long time now, Black members of SIUE’s community have suffered racist incidents directed against students, staff, and faculty. Some have been overt, as in the incident several years ago in which a pickup truck driving through campus slowed down next to a group of Black male students so that its occupants could lean out to call them the n-word before it sped away. These overt acts express a belief in the inferiority of Black persons and show that they are actively unwanted.
Other racist incidents are more covert, small acts of disrespect related to race which pile up over time. These include classroom behavior from students and professors such as assumptions about a student’s family status based on their race, assuming that a Black faculty member in her office must be the department secretary, and continual unconcerned mispronunciation of student names that requires the student, faculty or staff member to adjust rather than the speaker. These acts make it clear that whiteness is seen as the norm, and blackness is seen as outside the norm.
Both overt and covert acts reinforce power structures that maintain white supremacy, and paint Black students, staff, and faculty as at best atypical or foreign and more often as actively unwanted.
The incident of the note on the student’s door is overt and aggressively racist. Part of its power comes from the fact that this student cannot know which of the many people around them hates them so much. It could be anyone or, rather, it could be anyone who doesn’t speak out against it.
As you can see from the student’s response, they did not believe that SIUE was responding appropriately. Indeed, the initial response was lacking. When the student checked their e-mail Friday morning, their first formal response to racism was an e-mail from the Chancellor about the impending verdict on former police officer Jason Stockley who fatally shot a Black man in St. Louis in 2011. That e-mail, below, urged “peace and understanding” and referred vaguely to the Stockley verdict’s racial implications (“We understand that emotions run deep”) while referencing SIUE’s admirable principles. But who is being urged to be peaceful, and who is supposed to be working to understand whom?
The above message is what the student who received that note woke up to Friday morning. It is what the student found as their first formal response from SIUE. Only through the efforts of advocate faculty and staff was the student able to receive a direct response later on Friday to their own issues.
The University has failed to create an atmosphere in which Black students feel safe and welcomed. We have failed to educate the white members of our community on how to be and do better. We have wordsmithed our messages until they are lovely but hollow. SIUE students, staff, and faculty hear that hollowness ringing loud and clear.
We have failed to respond adequately, or at all, to major regional and national incidents that clearly bear on the welfare of our community. This includes the university’s response to white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and at the University of Virginia. The sole response was a single paragraph in SIU President Randy Dunn’s August 23 Message from the President, which is not directed at students. SIUE administration simply did not address the issue for faculty and staff or for students, seeming to see it as irrelevant to our campus despite our own history. Many universities across the nation rightly saw that Charlottesville implicated their own communities and affected their own students. SIUE did not act, nor did Women’s Studies. Silence speaks volumes. SIUE students, staff, and faculty hear that silence loud and clear.
The Women’s Studies Program stands against racism in its covert and overt forms. We stand with this student and the others who have experienced and may continue to experience such treatment. We pledge to be active bystanders when we observe such incidents occurring, and to hold ourselves and each other accountable for our own behaviors.
We call on SIUE to develop clear and compassionate and speedy student-centered responses to incidents of this nature. These responses should trust the testimony of the person who has received such treatment, and should always reach the individual student face to face before any related announcement goes out to the university community. They should be concerned with the student’s welfare rather than the university’s image. This should also be true of university responses to events in our region, the nation, or the world at large. The University should support opportunities for SIUE community members to gather and discuss such events. There is power in naming and the administration should call things what they are, avoiding euphemisms or phrases that will, however unintentionally, minimize what has happened. Racism is racism, not merely intolerance; white supremacy is white supremacy, not merely a failure of respect and dignity for all.
How we conduct ourselves when others do wrong is all that distinguishes us from them. It is our responsibility to respond actively, unambiguously, and compassionately. When members of our community who are Black are made to feel unsafe or unwelcome, the task before all of us is to create a community that reaches out and that does not push further away.
To make that sheltering and decent community possible, some of us will have to work on ourselves: on our tendency to act in ways that play into the view that whiteness is the norm, and on how we act when we are bystanders to behaviors that reinforce white supremacy. To make that sheltering and decent community possible, the university will have to work on how it responds to these incidents and on the support it provides to Black students, staff, and faculty. To make that sheltering and decent community possible, all members of the SIUE community will have to work to earn the trust of our Black students and colleagues. It is a trust we have not yet earned.
We have work to do. Let’s get to work.
Alison Reiheld, Philosophy faculty and Director of Women’s Studies
Jill Anderson, English faculty
Kim Carter, Social Work faculty
Matt Sautman, TA, English
Anushiya Ramaswamy, English faculty
Abigail Hall, alumni
Samara Chapple, Sociology graduate student
Megan Arnett, Sociology faculty and SIUE alumni
Kiana Cox, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty
Michelle Miller, alumni
Katherine Poole-Jones, Art & Design faculty
Mary Sue Love, Department of Managing and Marketing faculty
Justin Yancey, TA, English
Breanne Burton, student
Catherine Seltzer, English faculty
Aimie Pace, alumni
Carole Frick, History faculty
Linda Markowitz, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty
Cory Willmott, Anthropology faculty
Liz Stygar, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty
Jill Schreiber, Social Work faculty
Christy Ferguson, English faculty
Emily Truckenbrod, Music faculty
Helena Gurfinkel, English faculty
Jessica Despain, English faculty
Mike Anderson, alumni
Saba Fatima, Philosophy faculty
Jennifer Logue, Educational Leadership faculty
Mariana Solares, Foreign Languages & Literature faculty
Rosalind Evans, Social Work faculty
Laurel Puchner, Educational Leadership faculty
Tricia Oberweis, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty
Tori Walters, English and Philosophy staff
Valerie Vogrin, English faculty
Nicole Klein, Applied Health faculty
Connie Frey-Spurlock, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty
Ekaterina Gorislavsky, Sociology & Criminal Justice faculty