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A Cruel Joke or An Institutional Failure?

by Micah Wilkins, Editor-in-Chief

By now, we should all know what happened.

By now, we should have had dozens of conversations about it.

By now, we should have felt a hundred feelings and thought countless thoughts about it.

What was discovered on Monday morning—the letters “KKK” and a smiley face carved into the bark of a young tree in front of Gladfelter—is an absolute disgrace to this community.

It was an act that hurt and isolated individuals on our campus, people of color in particular. The Ku Klux Klan has a bloody history of targeting Jews, Catholics, and homosexuals, but they are mostly associated with their notorious violence against African American communities throughout the United States.

Whether or not the perpetrator intended this as a threat or as an obtuse joke is beside the point. Actions like this are not welcome in this community regardless of the ignorance or the intent of the person who committed them.

Monday’s vigil was a powerful event. Circling around the tree, students shared songs and Chaplain Brian Ammons reminded us that the conversation needs to continue beyond just those 30 minutes of reflection.

Racism is not just a racial slur written on a student’s door. Racism is not just “KKK” carved into a tree. Racism happens everyday on our campus, in subtle ways and in not-so-subtle ways, in the classroom, in dorms, on the pedestrian bridge, in Gladfelter.

As a white person, I do not feel the impacts of these incidents in the same way, to the same degree, that other students do. While these events personally hurt and threaten individual people on our campus, they are also extremely damaging to the community as a whole.

We have been throwing this word around a lot since I arrived at Warren Wilson: diversity.

But since 2010, the color of this campus has not changed much. Incidents like this will keep happening unless we take firm, intentional steps to work against racism, both on a personal level and on an institutional level. What we need is a steadfast diversity initiative, to bring more color, more perspectives, to this campus. This is the only way that we can incorporate different worldviews, and this is the only way we can overcome disheartening incidents of blatant ignorance and racism.

After Monday’s incident, I feel frustrated, angry, confused, disappointed and sad, but mostly, I am tired. I am tired of events like this happening on my campus. I am tired of receiving e-mails from the Dean of Students, repeating the same message that racist acts on campus are NOT OK, a message that should already be obvious. I am tired of seeing the few students of color on campus frustrated and hurt by the myriad of ways that they are isolated and targeted on this predominantly white campus. I am tired of the ignorance of some of our white students.

Jefferson Pinder, an African American artist, put it best when he came to give a presentation on his artwork on Nov. 7. To a crowd that nearly filled Canon Lounge, he directly said that he was disappointed at the lack of diversity as he was walking around campus. We are currently experiencing a world this big, he said as he held out his hands so that they were about a foot apart. With more diversity on campus, we could be experiencing a world this big, holding out his hands so that they were five feet apart.

Diversifying the campus might not be easy, it might not be pretty, and it is not fun to acknowledge our own racism, but it is essential.

We are missing out on valuable perspectives not only because our student body is predominantly white, but also because our curriculum is predominantly white.

At Warren Wilson, students can skirt the issue of race (and the issues of ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation and more), by refusing to engage in this type of thinking, by the classes they choose, in the conversations they engage in and in the people they interact with. As students, we need to be challenged to think about race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, regardless of our discipline or field of study. A proper liberal arts education should challenge us in these ways and should provide us with tools to address these issues. But Monday’s incident has made me think that Warren Wilson has fallen short in doing this.

Discussion

3 Responses to “A Cruel Joke or An Institutional Failure?”

  1. thank you for this.

    Posted by alum | November 21, 2013, 5:11 am
  2. I just wanted to say that I was very pleased to read “A Cruel Joke or An Institutional Failure.” Besides being well written I think it brought up some very important points. There is the obvious fact that this act is hurtful to many of our students. However, I feel like it has broader implications. Although having a ceremony against hate was very nice and a moving symbol of our togetherness, more steps need to be taken. The fact is that we aren’t as a diverse of a school as we should be. Culturally, economically, and ethnically we are quite homogenous. I feel that it is not enough to say that racism is bad. Warren Wilson needs to “walk the walk.” Increasing our minority and international student population will enhance everyone’s worldview and will make for a richer learning environment in general. Micah, you hit the nail on the head. Discussions need to be had! I found the piece moving and on the right track. Keep up the good work!

    Posted by Luca Bicchieri | November 22, 2013, 3:10 pm

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