By Jewell Porter & Kayln Dunkins
Editor-in-Chief and Arts & Life Editor
The University of Missouri (Mizzou) made headlines and caught national attention at the onset of a coalition of student protesters demanding the resignation of Tim Wolfe, the former president of the university who ultimately resigned on Nov. 9.
The protests at Mizzou sparked similar protests on college campuses nationwide as well as a general conversation about how colleges and universities respond to issues of racism, including on Denison’s campus.
But on Denison’s campus, several students interviewed expressed microaggressions and acts of racism that they have encountered during their time here.
“There have been many times where I have felt microaggressions on campus,” Amy Tsegai ‘18 said. “There was a time where me and my two roommates (who are also black) were talking to this white male, who lived on our floor, and he was talking to us about a black artist. He asked us if we knew who that black artist was and we said no. He then continued by saying ‘Wow, I’m blacker than you. I’m more cultured than you.’ That literally blew my mind.”
Ruby Montes De Oca ‘14 said that she also felt marginalized at Denison because of her race, gender and socioeconomic status. She said, “While at Denison, I felt marginalized because of any one of my given identities every single day. I found myself both consciously and subconsciously tackling campus culture/climate issues, as they related to my multidimensionality, before being able to tackle the academic rigor demanded from me as a student.”
Vanna Tran ‘19 also said that she has experienced microaggressions on campus. She said, “Though there are some really amazing people on campus, there have been countless times when I felt uncomfortable being an Asian American woman on campus.”
She continued, “I was told that I have it easier because I am ‘the model minority’ and so being labeled as such, I was also told that I have not been oppressed like people from the black and/or Hispanic/Latino community,” she said.
“In comparison to my hometown, Denison’s campus is relatively safe, meaning that I don’t feel that I’m in any life threatening or immediate danger,” said Andrianna Peterson ‘18. “ However, I don’t feel safe in expression. There is a constant pressure to blend in and to stifle racial and cultural identities.”
Students and staff pointed out that many of these problems emerge from not talking about racial issues on campus. Tabitha Chester, a women’s studies and black studies professor, said that issues on campus tend to build up without being talked about.
“Because we aren’t having these larger conversations, we can’t see how the micro-aggressions used are shared [by multiple members of the community],” she said.
Students agreed that the lack of conversation is a problem. Simone Stevens said, “I think Denison goes about handling race issues just like they handle their sexual assault cases: by sweeping it under the rug.”
Stevens cited an incident last year at a fraternity party where someone or a group of students shouted that no black people, queer people or fat chicks would be permitted at the party.
“When this was brought to the attention of the administration by the BSU in the form of a letter, the administration still did nothing. It is pretty clear that Denison only wants students of color on their campus to make the school look better; they do not really care about our well-being,” she said.
“To me, administration is only worried about Denison’s image. By hushing certain issues, just like race, then they are ultimately silencing the people who are being affected,” Amy Tsegai ‘18 said. “It’s something I noticed that is a constant reoccurrence.”
Students argued that avoiding the conversation is also dangerous because it does not address the issue of systematic racism. “The University has acknowledged that race is a problem on campus, but they’re not working toward a long-term solution to it,” Alana Perez ‘16 said.
Linda Krumholz, chair of the black studies department, said that many of these issues come from not knowing how to talk about race. She said, “What I care about is getting people to listen to each other, to talk to each other, to be open to seeing the ways in which what they’ve learned is racist and if they don’t wanna be racist they have to work on that.”
She continued, “They have to learn things, they have to often change the ways they think about themselves and the world –– and that’s painful — and they might resist. So how can people learn to listen without being defensive?”
To stand in solidarity with the students protesting nationwide, the Black Student Union and the African Student Association will be holding a march on Thursday at 11:30 am beginning at the Black Student Union.
“As discerning moral agents, active citizens of a democratic society, and students of color, we recognize the importance of standing in solidarity with students who have been subjected to racial violence, threats, and incidents of hate bias,” Anna Teye, president of ASA, said in an email addressed to the general body of the club.