‘Institutionally Racist’ a Conversation Starter
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 5, 2012 02:10
You may have seen us before. Last Tuesday afternoon, we walked into Red Square and got quite a bit of attention. But that was not our first time using words to spark thought and dialogue. Last year, we stood in Red Square holding signs for a silent action campaign organized by what was then a new group on campus, Georgetown Leaders for Unity and Equity.
The posters GLUE carried last year displayed quotations from authors and activists that we felt addressed crucial, and often overlooked, points regarding race and diversity in this country. The campaign in Red Square last week was a continuation of those efforts — efforts through which we hope to challenge members of the Georgetown community to think about issues that may not usually cross their minds and engage a range of people and perspectives in this discussion.
We decided last week that instead of writing questions on posters, we would have them feature statements that would push people to challenge their own opinions — a form of awareness that is crucial for meaningful dialogue. Understandably, most people focused on the poster reading “Georgetown is institutionally racist.”
Let us first say that this message was intended as a discussion topic and, while not explicitly framed as a question, aimed to create a platform for dialogue. It was not offered as an unequivocal statement, nor was it intended as an attack on the university’s efforts to improve the experiences of Georgetown students who may otherwise feel isolated. We are cognizant and grateful of the efforts of administrators, students, faculty and staff to create programs, centers and support networks that improve the experience at Georgetown for many students.
We are concerned, however, that students are not more encouraged to participate in cross-cultural groups. Why is it so rare to see diversity in cultural, political or activist groups? Why are we often afraid to meaningfully engage with people from different racial, ethnic, cultural or geographic backgrounds — not to mention diversity of gender, sexuality, political affiliation, religion, age, ability and many more? Why is it rare to see white students in African-American studies classes and male students in women’s and gender studies classes?
We venture to say that it shouldn’t be so rare. The burden of change should not fall only on individuals but also on the institution, which has the capacity to encourage and incentivize these intellectual and cultural exchanges. It is our job as students, however, to demonstrate to the university the importance of these institutional changes. We believe that demonstrations are invaluable to this process because they allow for an exchange of perspectives among students who may not otherwise interact and, ideally, for the inclusion of those people in the central aspect of GLUE: dialogue.
In recognizing that issues of identity ultimately affect all of us and shape our experiences both at Georgetown and in the world at large, GLUE holds weekly discussions about topics that, although neither easy nor comfortable, provide a largely unavailable venue for students to talk about how to make effective change in those realms. This mission is why we have stood in Red Square holding posters that we knew would spark both agreement and vehement disagreement.
GLUE strongly believes that engagement must come from all sides, not only to make engagement feasible but also to make it just and equitable. Therefore, it is simply not possible — or fair — to ask those in the Georgetown community to engage, to challenge their opinions or to step out of their comfort zones if we are not doing the same ourselves.
CARLY ROSENFIELD is a junior in the College. She is co-chair of Georgetown Leaders for Unity and Equity.