By FILAGOT TAYE & LILIAN PEREZ
The scourge of ignorant acts of sexism and racism committed by students has negatively affected multiple campuses within the past year. With the coming to light of recent events, it has become evident that the University of Mary Washington is no different. Certain incidents, whether publicized or not, have occurred on our campus that WE, various student groups and faculty, are disturbed by. Ignorance on our campus has manifested itself not only on paper, but in venues such as social media and in off-campus events.
Despite multiple workshops, events and discussions that our University has held to promote diversity and inclusion, students still continue to harbor willfully ignorant attitudes towards cultures and ethnicities different from their own. There are roughly 100 student clubs on campus, a large percentage of them being multicultural in nature. Whenever ignorant comments are uttered or misguided actions are carried out on this campus and everywhere it forcibly diminishes the participation of a specific group that already face challenges due to their gender, class, race, sexuality or nationality. It also taints the name of our university, an institution that already has the stigma of lacking in diversity.
It is our firmest belief then, that if an issue affects a student, it should be in their right to express their concerns about said issue and feel safe doing so. Furthermore, classifying students who voice up their opinions as being “sensitive” or “attention seekers” does injustice to the entire UMW community.
WE are offended, WE will complain and WE will not get over it.
We will continue to state our grievances about a party, “Taco Party,” held off-campus a week before spring break. Despite the supposed “intentions,” it was disrespectful, decidedly devoid of humor and blatantly racist. Although some of the details of this “Taco” birthday party remain unclear and elusive, a circulating Instagram photo portrays several individuals enacting various hurtful Mexican stereotypes. This includes: a construction worker, border patrol, “gangster” and, perhaps most base of all, one individual holding a sign that read “Will work for green card.” All of these students have been confirmed as UMW students – our peers. Some of the individuals photographed were identified as members of the Women’s Tennis Team, however this was not a Women’s Tennis Team sanctioned event.
We are well aware of the privilege these students have in carrying out this act of racism and caring little about its consequences. These students are clearly not as unaware of their racism as their apologists duly contend; indeed the caption gives this away, effectively expunging what would have been a lackluster argument to begin with. This was no ‘all in good fun’ or sheer ignorance with no offensive intent. They are far removed from the issues of immigration that affect the personal lives of not only Mexican immigrants, but immigrants of many nations, some of whom are classmates. This is what privilege looks like. To these students and those that partied with them, it was simply a joke, while to others it reinforces stereotypes that have adverse effects on lives.
We keep hearing ‘”Get over it, you’re dragging on the issue.’” But we also know we have allies within the UMW Community.
We know this party not only offends and degrades Mexican immigrants and immigrants in general, but is certainly at odds with UMW’s mission of diversity and inclusion. We don’t want just whispers and closed door conversations. We want students, faculty and administration to know what happened.
A couple of students, including us, had the opportunity to have a dialogue with the students identified in the photo. The conversation consisted of the students involved in the photo hearing the stories and comments of various students who were offended by the photo. There was a lot of frustration, tears, shock and some clarification.
We don’t want to vilify these students nor disregard their rights under the FERPA Act. However, we will not be silent. We will not allow this issue to be swept under the rug. If there follows no open discussion and acknowledgement of the incident, there is no doubt that it will be repeated.
As it currently stands, the administration, including President Rick Hurley, have commented that it is being addressed. However, there has been no public recognition across the campus of the issue itself nor has there been any comment on the manner in which it was ultimately dealt. In not acknowledging this, the University Mary Washington has further alienated and silenced minorities across campus.
Our allies include and are not limited to:
Students Educating and Empowering Diversity
Latino Students Association
Women of Color
Islamic Students Association
Asian Students Association
Black Students Association
Brothers Of a New Direction
Micaela Butler and Zaire Sprowal contributed to this op-ed.