Mothers Bar: One year later, Washington University reflects

| Student Life Editors

Scott Bressler | Campus in Focus

(Left to right) Nick Brooks, Blake Jones, Chuka Chike-Obi, Franklyn Pandolf-John and Regis Murayi stand outside the Original Mothers Bar in peaceful protest during last year’s senior class trip to Chicago.

A year ago, the world was watching six black Washington University students.

It began when the Original Mothers Bar rejected the students, who were on the senior class trip, on the basis that their jeans were too baggy. After one of the students switched jeans with a white student, who was then admitted to the bar, the black students said they had been discriminated against because of their race.

The Senior Class Council organized a protest the next day, and numerous news organizations, including the Associated Press, picked up on the story. Within a few weeks, the incident was being covered in 27 countries.

“I just texted the six guys this morning,” said last year’s senior class president, Fernando Cutz, who dealt with much of the fallout from the incident. “I said something like ‘A year ago tonight we had a really long night, then two weeks where we didn’t go to class, because we were dealing with the media.’”

Mothers follows through

In response to the student protest, the bar’s management agreed to a contract with the six black students stipulating that the bar issue a public apology, organize a rally protesting racial discrimination, have its staff undergo sensitivity training and host four fundraisers.

Mothers issued an apology. The rally was canceled because of logistical difficulties, particularly in obtaining a permit and renting sound equipment. The cancellation occurred with the students’ consent.

Thirty Mothers employees attended diversity sensitivity and awareness training led by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL said in a letter to Mothers that it was pleased with the attendees and their willingness to “move forward towards positive change and growth.”

The first was hosted by Northwestern University. Following a low turnout, the contract was altered to allocate the remaining resources into one larger fundraiser in St. Louis. This event, a wine and cheese tasting in Holmes Lounge, drew about 200 people and raised approximately $1800. Part of the money was donated to a charity that works to promote racial and religious diversity among high school students, and the remaining sum was given to the ADL.

“As far as the legal settlement goes, they’ve definitely fulfilled everything they agreed to. In that sense they can’t fulfill anything else, and we have to be happy with that,” Cutz said.

At Washington University, better communication?

On campus, the Mother’s Bar incident gave Washington University students a concrete and undeniable example of real-world racism.

“I think that people are a lot more cognizant of the issues that African Americans have to deal with on a daily basis with the incident of Mothers Bar being so systematically explored,” senior and Association of Black Students president Adam Abadir said.

Following the incident, Connect4, a student group that aims to promote dialogue between students of different backgrounds, hosted a roundtable and created task forces for addressing discrimination, each of which dealt with a different aspect of campus life.

Student Union senators formed a body called the Diversity Affairs Council in order to promote dialogue and foster an increased understanding of diversity at the University.

Many believe that the reaction to the Mothers Bar incident was a step in the right direction.

“It was encouraging to see activism on an issue many on campus never have to or will confront,” said junior Betel Ezaz, co-chair of U/FUSED, an undergraduate organization that focuses on socioeconomic diversity.

Cutz and Abadir both hope that the University has developed a new attitude toward racism as a result of the incident.

“I hope that people don’t think that what happened at Mothers Bar is an isolated incident. My hope is that people aren’t as surprised when a student experiences racism,” Abadir said.

“The one thing I hope for is that something’s changed because of it,” said Cutz. “That dialogue, or some sort of understanding, even if just on the Wash. U. campus, has actually improved, because of everything that we did last year and everything that we went through.”

However, some wonder whether the institutionalized reaction has truly been effective.

“We’re mislead to believe that being diverse is about having these events and groups and that’s promoting diversity,” senior Monis Khan said. “What we lose sight of is ‘what is diversity, how does it manifest itself in the world?’ What we need is to allow people to express themselves in their cultures and their traditions, and I don’t think that Wash. U. realizes that’s what diversity means.”

“We have become complacent again,” said Ezaz.

With additional reporting by Cyrus Bahrassa, Kate Gaertner, Michelle Merlin, Chloe Rosenberg and Michael Tabb.

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