Staff editorial: The conversation doesn’t stop with apologies

The last week was a wake-up call for many Washington University students. A series of comments about Asian students in a group chat enraged many students across campus and led the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) to host events and discussions about what Wash. U. and its community should do to address racism on campus. Student groups have joined in, too. On Thursday evening, Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) Demanding Justice will host a sit-in at Umrath House from 8-10 p.m. This is a good thing. Cultivating a diverse and inclusive community is a goal that we should absolutely be striving for and the response this week is a step towards that. However, that progress comes with a very obvious question: Why is our community only addressing these issues now?

Offensive ideas are not new to campus. Communities of color deal with problematic comments and behaviors constantly. Why does it take one of those comments going viral on campus to get a response?

The immediate response to the messages offers some insight. The first responses sent by members of the group chat who were not making racist statements were “did you try asking them to leave?” and “can we not do this please.” Both are deliberate efforts to ignore the elephant in the room: Someone said something racist, and they should be told that it’s not acceptable.

Confronting people when they say problematic things is difficult, but necessary. Too often on this campus do we hear microaggressions—or, in this case, macroaggressions—and retreat to the comfort of staying silent instead of challenging them. For the privileged, there is no penalty for doing this. It’s really easy for a white person to say absolutely nothing or make a passive comment to diffuse the situation instead of dealing with racial animus. As a result, the burden of the painful and traumatic process of confronting this kind of behavior often falls on people of color.

We saw this play out last week. The statement released by the Asian Multicultural Council delves into historic wrongs done to Asian-Americans and into modern antagonism that Asian students face. Our fellow students shouldn’t have to bare their souls for people to understand that the messages had harsher effects than just ruffling a few feathers.

Inevitably, the anger that is felt in this moment will dissipate. But the will to continue the conversation and make progress absolutely should not. We must stop the reactionary cycle and begin rooting out these ideologies before they reach their apex.

It is on all of us to better educate ourselves about the socio-cultural issues that members of our community face. Everyone can take action to make sure we never get here again. It starts with everyday actions. Think about what you are about to say and the impact that it can have on others. Learn to be OK with having these conversations so that if you hear someone say something disturbing, you can confront them in the moment.

On the other hand, if you say something problematic or offend someone, apologize. It’s not about intent; it’s about impact. Then take steps to understand what made the comments offensive so you don’t make the same mistake. Do what you can to learn more about these issues. Take a class in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, sociology or African and African-American Studies Departments or any other kind of cultural setting you’re unfamiliar with.

Coming to Wash. U. is the first time that some students will come into contact with many of these issues. There is a level of understanding that needs to come from those of us who are better versed in diversity issues. Instead of abandoning people who say problematic things, we should try to bring them along.

This a unique campus that has people with a wide variety of different perspectives. We need to make efforts to show that getting to know people by their name and story isn’t just a catchphrase we put on our website.