EDITOR’S NOTE: This staff editorial was written and submitted to our printing company before the university announced a second Zoom bombing attack late on Thursday, Feb. 25 at an event hosted by the History Department and Phi Alpha Theta History Honorary.
Our View is a staff editorial produced collaboratively by The Rocket Staff. Any views expressed in the editorial are the opinions of the entire staff.
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As we commit to educating ourselves and attending virtual events to celebrate and honor Black History Month, our community faced a horrific and racist Zoom bombing that attempted to disturb one student organization’s goal to create poetry and reflect on Black writers.
On Feb. 13, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. hosted a Poetry Writing and Sip night to create poetry and discuss prominent Black poets. An unknown number of people hijacked the event, and The Rocket reported that the attack “included the involuntary sharing of a video that showed a victim of mutilation along with a message which repeated a derogatory epithet for an African American over 90 times,” according to Alexis Gish, a member of the Campus Inclusion Response Team (CIRT) and the vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Slippery Rock Student Government Association (SRSGA).
The Rocket staff fully condemns the racist and senseless attack that disrupted a night planned for poetry and reflection. We support the sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., as well as the students of organizations who have released statements condemning the attack. We are listening.
Since the event, we have seen the activation of the CIRT, which was just announced on Feb. 10 and includes nine members. This team responded to the attack by calling for SRU President William Behre to make a statement on the attack and working with other members of administration. After this initial statement, Behre announced three virtual forums, the first of which was held on Monday and focused on the Zoom bombing and the university’s response.
However, we now need to consider what happens next.
This was not the only instance of racism on our campus, as a Black History Month poster was vandalized in a residence hall in February 2019 and a video of a former student’s hate speech made its rounds on social media over the summer break in 2020. Further, this is not the only recent Zoom bombing attack during Black History Month, as two Penn State University campuses, Rutgers University, Rider University and the University of Wyoming have all seen similar racist attacks.
What will be different this time, and how can we make changes to make Slippery Rock University a safe place for students of color to thrive?
First, we must listen to our students of color at all times, not just in response to traumatic and racist attacks like the Zoom bombing. Our efforts to be actively anti-racist must extend beyond these attacks and beyond Black History Month.
Since the Zoom bombing attack on Feb. 13, many student organizations have taken to social media to release statements on the attack. The following are just some of the specific suggestions made by these student organizations directed toward change at the administrative level:
- Black Action Society called for more Black faculty, staff and counselors.
- This coming Monday, the Slippery Rock Student Government Association will create a proclamation stating the importance of hiring a Black counselor.
- Black Life in Slippery Rock encouraged followers to send an email or letter to the Office of the President with concerns for safety.
- Slippery Rock University’s Black Alumni Network committed to following up with the university regarding plans to “deter racial prejudice from our campus community.”
These are only some of the suggestions and statements made by student groups, and we encourage you to click here for the full list of statements.
Then, we need to call administration to make change for students, faculty, staff and community members of color. Statements and emails alone, especially during this pandemic, will not make the change our students of color are calling for. We applaud the work of the Office of Inclusive Excellence for supporting students of color and especially Keshia Booker whose work as the assistant director of multicultural development is incredibly important in supporting and creating an environment to support all students.
We also recognize the university’s changes in adding more class options in the Rock Studies program, hiring Terrence Mitchell as a special adviser to the university and forming the CIRT. These are steps in the right direction, but as we have read in the statements from students of color, this is not nearly enough.
However, we also need to understand that finger-pointing is not the way to get reasonable answers. Yes, it is absolutely valid for us to challenge and question our administration, however, our efforts need to be focused on systemic change within our university beyond this initial reaction.
The staff of The Rocket encourages all SRU community members to use our publication as a public forum for your perspectives, statements and concerns. Our opinion section has space dedicated to this civil discourse, and while the editor-in-chief reaches out to select student organizations about this opportunity each semester, there is still usually additional space in this section that could be filled with the perspectives of SRU students, faculty and administrators.
Beyond listening and having conversations, we must actively educate ourselves and continue to seek more information. Over this past summer, the President’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity (PCRED) created the Anti-Racism and Social Justice Resources webpage on SRU’s website. This resource includes links to books, articles, podcasts and websites for topics surrounding race, diversity and social justice topics.
At the top of this webpage, PCRED quotes James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We are currently facing the aftermath of a racist attack against our own students, but we cannot make the changes our students of color are calling for without continuously addressing these issues at hand.
Our staff recognizes that we alone cannot resolve the institutional racism that led to the Zoom bombing event, especially those beyond the university. However, it would be foolish and irresponsible of us to think that staying comfortable in silence will lead to the systemic changes we are asking for. This kind of hate exists here because some might be more comfortable staying quiet than directly addressing racism and privilege.
Here is The Rocket’s commitment: we are not staying silent. We will continue to use our public forum for telling the community’s stories and local issues surrounding race, gender, disability, socioeconomic status and mental health. We will continue to ask administration the tough questions, holding them accountable for the changes our students and faculty of color are calling for.
Just like we are continuing to hold administration accountable for its decision, we are asking you to hold us accountable. If there is something you want us to cover or if you have an opinion piece you want us to consider for publication, please email our editor-in-chief at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we continue to strive for a more inclusive campus, remember: by choosing to stay silent, you are choosing to be complicit in the face of injustice. Choose to be an advocate, not a bystander.