Fighting misrepresentation begins with students, not the administration
On Sunday night, students noticed an all-too-familiar email enter their inboxes. The subject: “Important message from Dr. Lori White, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.” This past weekend, the Washington University community was again shocked by another incident of a racist post by members of its own student body. A photo, originally posted on a student’s Snapchat story, displayed two girls in face mask beauty products with the caption, “We’re in the zulu (sic) tribe.”
Understandably so, the photo stuck a nerve amongst members of the Wash. U. community. The insensitivity displayed by the two girls shocked and angered many, while others called for action from University administrators.
In a post this past weekend, one student called for a new kind of response from Wash. U. leaders. Rather than schedule another “Dialogue Day” and send out a series of emails listing people to email or phone numbers to call, the student body as a whole needs to come together to fight systemic racism.
The photo brought to light an often-ignored part of issues pertaining to race. While many discussions focus heavily on white-black relations, the two girls in question in the photos were Asian. Being a person of color (i.e.: non-white) does not exclude anyone from being a racist if they say offensive things. Participating in the community of learning at Washington University entails an amount of empathy for the experiences of others—regardless of if they are shared by everyone or not.
The Washington University community encountered a similar situation in 2013 when a group of students posted a photo on Facebook depicting three students holding toy guns pointed at another student wearing a gray beard and a beanie while a fifth student held up an American flag in the background. Many interpreted the photo as a display of anti-Muslim sentiments, and the administration was heavily criticized for failing to galvanize and address the situation.
In her email, White left the responsibility of engaging in discussions up to members of the University community, and the Student Life editorial board agrees.
While we all know that the University has plentiful resources to help enact change, the student body also possesses personal resources that have the potential to outweigh those of the University. As evidenced by the protest in Bear’s Den last month and the organized events during the weekend of the presidential debate, students and community members can lead the fight for the cause, and should take action to do so.
All members of Washington University live in the presence of some of the most intelligent people in the world—and not just students and professors. With this body of peers comes a set of diverse experiences and perspectives that should be shared amongst us all. By creating a community based on standards of openness and understanding, situations like those this past weekend can hopefully be avoided in the future. Cultural misappropriation is inexcusable in any circumstance, but efforts should still be taken to educate all in the many ways things can be conveyed as such.