Op-ed: To our fellow peers
On the afternoon of July 17, members of Student Union leadership released a statement regarding the events that took place earlier this month. Though we were invited to participate in drafting the SU communication on this issue, we believe that the statement issued did not adequately reflect the input we provided. Consequently, the Diversity Affairs Council chose to release this supplemental statement in an effort to ensure that these comments were meaningfully reflected. Though we are encouraged to see the considerable effort put into the drafting of the original statement, we—as the Diversity Affairs Council—know that it is our duty to recognize the faults in this statement, faults that could potentially hinder the progress we all seek to make.
Before we proceed, we want to emphasize the fact that this incident is not unique to the experience of Washington University’s Students of Color. Wash. U.’s Students of Color, and Communities of Color in general, have a long and tumultuous history both on and off campus with the officers of the Clayton Police Department in addition to the Washington University Police Department. We must also emphasize that the issues we now seek to address go beyond the bubble we live in and point to a larger systemic issue that has yet to be directly addressed by our Student Union leaders or University administration.
We want to be clear: Before the individuals involved in the triggering event were seen as students of Washington University, they were seen as People of Color. No degree or red and green color scheme could protect them from the injustices that plague people like them every day. College, for any student, is a time rife with change, transition, confusion and hardship. These four years contain numerous instances of failure and success, many of which mold us into the adults we want to become. However, in addition to this, Students of Color bear inescapable trials and tribulations on a near-daily basis.
Because our peers consistently experience racial profiling not only within, but outside of the confines of the Wash. U. community, our response to such events must also reflect this reality, and reach beyond the limited jurisdiction of our University. With this in mind, we would like to respectfully make a few suggestions to Student Union leadership:
Firstly, we know all too well the frustrations and disappointments wrought by promises of lofty, aspirational and seemingly unattainable goals. As students, we understand the difficulties of enacting meaningful change in a complex bureaucratic system, and we accept the challenges of the uphill battle which accompany it. As such, we seek to emphasize that comprehensive plans and action items speak far louder than promises constructed only of sensationalized vagaries. Statements from representatives are in effect commitments to constituents, and therefore must be concrete in action, deliverance and purpose.
Secondly, in order to more fully address the needs and wants of marginalized communities in times of crises, we must understand that direct communication with affected parties is necessary for the construction of a comprehensive response, primarily via the direct engagement of applicable affinity groups. We know it to be of the utmost importance that when instances of trauma occur, we as student representatives provide a platform for these marginalized voices, as opposed to speaking for them.
Lastly, we encourage this year’s newly-elected officials to set a new standard of transparency and engagement in activism when responding to these situations. We acknowledge that past SU administrations have left behind a history of performative allyship and that it will take time for this new group of representatives to gain a new, better rapport within the greater Wash. U. community. It is our greatest hope that you will use future conflicts as an opportunity to improve your commitment to the students you represent.
To all the members of Student Union: We urge you to use this letter as a guideline regarding our expectations of you as our representatives. Having seen the efforts that have already been made to support your constituents, we are optimistic that the appropriate changes will be made and that you will treat each response as a learning experience.