As students, we want to attend an inclusive university. By inclusive we want a university that accepts and acknowledges who we are no matter where we come from or who we are. For us, that means that our presence, our ideas and our opinions are valued and we are as important as anyone else. We feel intimidated when we are the only student of color in class and are asked to speak on behalf of all people of color. We want to be engaged in our education as individuals who are appreciated for their input.
We believe that language that attacks a group or uses degrading terms should not be allowed at the university, period, especially hateful language directed at historically marginalized groups. We can’t stress enough that what other students say can affect others and how they feel about being a student at Washburn. Not only does degrading language hurt others, it can harm the speaker by reflecting poorly on them. It also gives the speaker a poor image.
We believe students should come to the university ready to empathize, understand and to learn why something is offensive instead of finding ways to justify hateful language. We must be ready to listen to students and find ways to support them when they feel hurt and angry. We want a university that will respond to us when we tell officials that we are offended and when we feel unsafe. In order to create an inclusive campus we must listen to students, especially students from historically marginalized groups. We cannot dismiss hateful language just because it doesn’t affect us or because we may not understand the impact. If a student tells you it is offensive, then it is offensive to them, and we should honor their value and humanity and not question their right to be angry or upset.
We understand that students have the freedom to say what they want and the right to say things we may not agree with. We challenge all students to think about the impact of what they say before they speak or post on social media. Students may say what they want, but we will also hold them accountable for the impact of their language. We can educate our fellow students and continue to speak about why hateful language is unacceptable. We need to find ways we can support students who have been affected by hateful language. Most importantly we need to support one another.
We know that a lot of work has gone into creating a more inclusive campus at Washburn over the last year, however, we know that it is just a start and it clearly is not enough. We know that many leaders in the university care about us and the experiences we have on campus. However, we believe our leaders continue to fall short in their actions to address our concerns. We appreciate the concern when there is a crisis, but where are the university plans for a more inclusive campus in the future? Where is the plan to hire more diverse faculty and staff? How do we engage in multicultural recruitment? We want to know why we still do not have a Multicultural Resource Center? We do not have faculty who study issues of concern to marginalized groups. We still do not have diversity training for faculty and staff. Until the university leaders become serious about taking these and other actions, their care and concern for us when students use hateful language means very little.
Cedrick Henderson Smith and Melissa Tovar, Student Staff
Washburn University Office of Diversity and Inclusion