At the beginning of the week, The Rocket staff discussed a proper response to the racist vandalism in Rhoads Hall. We each felt strongly about the incident and we knew we thought the vandalism was wrong, but we didn’t know what to say. What could an almost entirely white editorial board say that would meaningfully add to the dialogue? After an hour-long discussion, our staff decided to wait until the town hall hosted by President Behre had concluded to clarify our thoughts, and listen to what the students, faculty, and staff of Slippery Rock University wanted and believed.
During the town hall, attendees had the opportunity to submit their feelings anonymously through note cards in order to promote a more open discussion. One student used the card to say they believed that as a white student, they were not allowed to have an opinion.
Following the statement, The Rocket decided we had the correct message to send to our peers. We believe that sometimes it is appropriate for us, as white students, to not begin these types of discussions with our own opinion.
In response to one question Monday night, Dr. Behre stated that he believes that it is impossible to come to a conversation without personal opinions and biases, and largely he is right. Every student at this university has a unique set of values and experiences that shape the way they view the world around them. However, when it comes to the issue of race, many of our students have very little experience interacting with people who don’t look like they do. Our university is over 85 percent white as of fall 2017, and approximately half of our students come from just five counties in Pennsylvania. Anyone who is approaching a conversation about race with firm beliefs, without having experienced what it means to live as an oppressed person in America, is not fully prepared to offer a complete perspective.
When we as white students try to control the narrative, regardless of what position we take, we are taking the spotlight from black students who are most affected by events like the one that happened last week. As white students, the closest we can get to an accepting and diverse campus is to be diverse and welcoming to all students and staff. Without truly understanding the effect racism has on a black student, we will only be able to create something close to the campus we all want to have.
With that being said, The Rocket staff lends its ear to all: We are listening. Rather than trying to solve racism, with 10 white undergrads in a small town in western Pennsylvania, we remind all marginalized communities of this university that we support you, we want to hear your opinions, learn from your experiences, and we seek to build a more inclusive campus at your lead.
We will work with the administration, SGA, and any other groups who should be involved in hosting more discussions like the one on Monday night. Our opinion section is open for anyone to share their views with those who need to hear them.
Moving forward if you ever feel afraid to have an opinion, stop and listen to your fellow students with perspectives different from your own before broadcasting it to the world.