Accountability over ignorance

Reilly Brady | Staff Writer

On Oct. 24, I attended a protest organized by WashU for Abolition. While I had previously researched defunding the police as a nationwide issue, I was not well-informed with the topic as applied specifically to Wash. U. I decided to attend the protest to show my support as well as to learn more about the cause and the reasoning behind abolition within the University. In the last hour of the event, attendees were given an opportunity through an open-mic format to speak about the issue and Wash. U. as a whole. Though I thought I had been aware of certain problems within Wash. U. as an institution, my eyes were opened to topics I had never considered before.

One speaker addressed how there are limited therapy services available for the entire student population and how underfunded mental health resources are compared to the funding of WUPD. Another speaker addressed the influence of Wash. U. on the surrounding St. Louis community and the vast privilege we hold as students here in choosing to ignore issues that greatly affect our surrounding community, such as the Delmar Divide, a product of racial segregation and redlining, which I had not heard of prior to the protest. The words of one speaker will repeat in my mind for weeks to come: “We are guests here.”

Here I was, living in a new city, taking up space as a guest, and I had failed to both inform myself of issues surrounding racial justice in St. Louis as well as some of the failures and problematic actions of Wash. U. as an institution. I was privileged enough to arrive as a guest, ignore issues of our surrounding community, and stay within the beautified walls of the Wash. U. campus.

Compared to my experiences in high school, this exposure and level of introspection was completely new. Throughout my four years of high school, I never thought to question school policy or consider my school’s treatment of students of color or other marginalized students; however, not even two months into college, I was already being exposed to problems within the institution as well as to different ways of thinking about social and political justice.

When reflecting on these vast differences in experiences, another factor of exposure comes to mind: diversity. I’ve been introduced to people with a greater variety of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. I’ve had conversations that I was never given the opportunity to have before because many people in my high school were just like me: They looked like me, thought like me and lived like me. In an environment of people from across the United States and beyond, I’ve been exposed to social, political and cultural ideas that have helped me form more solid, diversified understandings of issues that I had once erroneously thought I fully understood.

At first, I was distraught at the problematic history of certain elements of Wash. U. as an institution, a school I had been so excited to be admitted to and attend. However, I started to realize an optimistic perspective of my experiences within these first few months of college. Students here are willing to hold the University accountable; they are willing to organize, take action and challenge the institution. The environment is one that supports change and strives for a better university for all students.

Now I understand that holding an institution accountable is much better than the alternative: ignorance. No powerful institution is perfect. What truly defines the students at a university is the ability and desire of the student body to challenge their institution and choose recognition over ignorance. Holding Wash. U. accountable makes me proud to be a part of the student body––a group of people from diverse backgrounds willing to organize together and challenge an institution to strive for a better university, a better community and ultimately a better world.

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