Mother’s Bar: A look back

The issue

A year ago, six black students were denied entry to the Original Mothers Bar under the pretext that their jeans were too baggy. After a shorter white student was allowed in wearing the same jeans, the students rightly called the incident a case of unjust racial discrimination.

Seniors on the trip held a protest the next day, and upon returning to Washington University, then-senior class president Fernando Cutz and the six affected students held a town hall forum and consulted legal counsel on how to respond to the incident. The students reached a contract with the bar, and—after a few appropriate modifications—Mothers upheld its promises.

Our thoughts

What happened at Mothers Bar that night did more than just expose the reality of racism in America today. It also appropriately unleashed a wave of student action and energy rarely witnessed on this campus.

We find a statement from one of the students’ legal representatives particularly fitting: “Both sides were able to take a negative incident and make something positive come of it. The students demonstrated leadership, maturity and strength of character as they stood up for important principles, and I believe that the Mothers organization worked with the students in good faith to help combat racial discrimination.”

While nothing can fully erase what happened, we applaud Mothers’ steps to rectify some of the damage done. We also have praise for the student body, student leaders such as Cutz and the six men who endured the brunt of it all.

But though an anniversary has come and gone, it would be unreasonable for us to suggest everything is done and great. What happened at Mothers was not an isolated incident. Combating racism requires sustained passion and commitment.

Cutz says he hopes “that something’s changed…because of everything that we did last year and everything that we went through.” In our assessment, it seems little has changed. This is not to say that last year’s work was in vain; Mothers had to be held accountable. But despite the formation of the Diversity Affairs Council, our attention to diversity and discrimination has suffered. Today’s student body lacks the same vigor to attack racism that had our campus so electrified last fall.

Moving forward

It may seem inevitable that most of us have fallen into the trap of complacency again, distracted by the more recent Gulf oil spill, midterm exams and an upcoming election. Nevertheless, as students, we need to take a stronger interest in making a difference at Wash. U. and in the broader St. Louis community.

Students in an isolated, academic and relatively politically correct environment—especially those who do not experience racism firsthand—have a tendency to forget the importance of dialogue and consideration.

Dialogue and awareness on campus is important not only in the present, but in the future. In exposing us to a wide variety of people with 18 to 22 years of life experiences different from our own, college enables us to learn the social skills that we will carry with us into futures in business and the public service—among them the ability to listen to and genuinely appreciate diverse values and experiences. Wash. U. at large may be more politically correct than the broader world, but—as last year’s incident proved—influence can start with us. We hope that the lessons of the Mothers Men are not lost on this campus.

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