I never thought that we had a race issue here on campus. But like all great moments in history, you never notice the underlying problems until something kicks it into the spotlight.
About a week ago, the transcript from a focus group that discussed crime on campus was released and gradually made its way through parts of the student body. Portions of the transcript highlighted the words of a security contractor on the north side of campus.
Some of the things he said were, “We have to be more sensitive as we recognize who does not belong here,” and “my advice to you and other black students is to be known.” He then proceeded to suggest to the girl that was taking notes that she introduce herself and her other minority friends to campus police. What struck a chord with me was that minority students are now held to higher expectations in order to receive equal treatment by the campus police.
For campus security to decide who belongs on campus and who “the street kids” are, they have to factor in the time of day and the person’s age, behavior and appearance. This is where my confusion comes into play.
I am a black kid who grew up in the suburbs of Wisconsin, so I’ve spent the past twenty years trying to understand both the majority and minority point of view. Yes, demographically, this area has a high percentage of minorities. Yes, a lot of our security alerts describe the suspect as a “black male”. I also know that three out of the five days in the school week, I dress like I belong in a J. Crew catalog, making me unlikely to be mistaken for some random hoodlum. However, some days, I don’t try at all. All of midterm and finals week last semester, I wore nothing but sweatpants and a Badger’s hoodie and regularly left Kelvin Smith Library at two in the morning. Is it really fair to me that I have to dress like a model every day in order not to be stopped by a cop? In my mind, I don’t look like a street kid; I look like Stephen.
Of course, if it’s 2 a.m., I can appreciate why the thought, “That doesn’t look like a street kid, that looks like Stephen” won’t cross the mind of an officer who doesn’t know me, which might be why the now fired north side manager of security suggested that minority students become familiar with Case Western Reserve University security personnel. But if that officer doesn’t have the same “street kid” suspicion about, say, a white kid in a hoodie, then that is racial profiling.
I also understand that the minorities on campus are not hated. It may look like we are being overly sensitive and taking what just a few people have said too seriously, but what has to be understood is that comments like the ones made by the security manager cannot be taken lightly anymore. Even saying that you are “color-blind” or “don’t see race” is not an option. To ignore someone’s race is to ignore their experiences, identity and knowledge that they can bring to the table. We cannot expect to knock down theses racial barriers if we choose to remain ignorant of the differences that we have.
I had the pleasure of attending the CWRU African American Society’s event Race Relations at CWRU: Time to Change on Sept. 28. It was great to see representatives from the administration, Greek Life, and student organizations who were all of different ethnicities and backgrounds.
In the Tink ballroom we discussed how to have a constructive dialogue. In a constructive dialogue, everyone is empathetic, shares airtime, honors confidentiality, challenges themselves to say what they mean and listens harder when they disagree.
What I would like to add to those requirements is that you accept that you may be uninformed about certain issues. As a male, I may not understand a typical woman’s struggle. Even as a black kid, I am willing to accept that I may have some ignorant opinions that could be changed by with someone helping me identify the flaws in my logic or perspective.
So I accept that a straight, white male may not see things the way that I see them, but that does not mean I am any better than him. He may actually surprise me with what he has to say, and I am prepared to consider his perspectives, just as I would hope that anyone discussing race is prepared to give serious consideration to any and all perspectives presented to them.
What I love most about this generation is that we try. Every day we try our hardest to be a little better than our ancestors and not be such crappy people. We try to enlighten the world through our articles, statuses, blogs and even hashtags.
But in the words of Shonda Rhimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” and a bona fide queen, a hashtag is not a movement. The hashtags that bring awareness to our causes, in my mind, are no more popular than “#turnup, “#blessed”, or “#pumpkinspice”.
We want the world to know that we aren’t happy with the current condition. Dialogues and hashtags only get us so far. It is our job to get out there and actually do something with the long lives we have. I really don’t think that any social issues are truly about race, gender or sexuality themselves. They all boil down to respect. There is a lack of respect for different perspectives on campus, and no one wants to face the awkwardness of talking about it. But I challenge my CWRU community to do better than we have been doing and talk about race constructively.