OP/ED: The Key to Unity is Discussion

February 20, 2019

For everything I’ve ever criticized Mercy College for, whether it be the food or security policies, one strength this school has going for is that it holds a plethora of diversity amongst the student and staff body

Growing up in towns that were mostly white, with a notable Latinx population, in most cases, Mercy has been a fresh breath for me. Everyone wants to brag about how much they love diversity, but I think it has opened me to so many unique opportunities here in Dobbs Ferry I never had back on Long Island.

The real benefit of this, however, comes through the ability to learn. It’s no secret that when you’re in the majority group, you tend to “stay in your lane.” But with no ethnic group being the majority here at Mercy, it can allow for all of us to open our eyes, learn, discuss, and come closer together as human beings.

Which is why I’m still baffled at Hudson Hall’s “Controversial Statement” posters.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, on Feb. 7,  Mercy College students received an email from Hudson Hall’s Residential Director, Najja Beaulieu-Hains, explaining what would be happening.

“There are some controversial statements posted in the lobby and lounge areas of our building. Please understand that these statements are not posted to offend anyone, however, we do want to solicit your views and reaction when similar comments are made in our community. You are welcomed to write your authentic reactions but there are some rules.”

Then you had your typical set of rules: no names, cursing, derogatory messages, or tearing down the posters.

The goal of this was for someone to read the statements at an event later in the month in what I’m assuming will be an open discussion.

Here were the statements, that keep in mind, are still up on the walls of Hudson Hall:

  • “Speak English, we’re in America!”
  • “You failed an exam? How? Aren’t you Asian?”
  • “I prefer dark-skinned men because they are tough and strong. Light-skinned guys are soft!”
  • “White people get away with everything!”
  • And for reasons I’m about to explain, I can’t exactly quote the last one. It went somewhere along the lines of saying that black women always have an attitude, making them undateable.

So as I write this 12 days later, where do we stand? Two posters were ripped off by students and thrown out (which is why I can’t get one of the statements), and now you have a community of irritated students. Believe it or not, people don’t like to walk into their home building with xenophobic/colorist/racist statements on the walls.

Upset students aside, to call this idea a missed opportunity would be gracious to the process. It was reckless, harmful, and more importantly, it did not bring us together. Instead, it did nothing but let ignorant people continue to be ignorant and only upset those groups affected by the statements.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand that this idea was going to likely backfire. Case in point, I even noticed it. About an hour after she sent the initial email in which it called for feedback, I had thoughts on the process I voiced back.

I just wanted to give some feedback on the idea. I really like the posters, I actually just went and filled it out! The purpose is great and I think a way to vent for POC is smart and it can be informative for white people to think differently about these issues.

I’m just worried that the result of this could end up being counterproductive due to the statements written; I’ve only seen mine (4th floor), and while I agree with the message written on it (white privilege being a thing), I feel like a “broad” statement like that could only create more friction for certain people who are ignorant to these type of issues without further explanation.

Perhaps I’m just overthinking it, like I said, the idea is unique and refreshing compared to other things I’ve seen at Mercy. I just don’t want some idiot to create a problem because of a lack of understanding and write something stupid, you know what I mean?

Ten minutes later, I received a response citing that “there is no way to control what people say but as I mentioned, they are near cameras for a reason. They will also be monitored daily but everyone’s voice needs to be heard.”

This statement is where I believe it set this whole experiment to fail from the beginning.

I meant what I said in my email. I think the idea is smart and innovative in a lot of ways. The concept of allowing everyone to speak up and use their voice is proven to be effective. This is only assuming you have the right group of people willing to discuss and inform others.

This is where the posters came short. It involved people writing to themselves. While I understand that someone would use the posters for a later event, it doesn’t change that it did nothing to sort the issues of what divides us right now.

I will refer to the poster on my floor, as I only kept up with mine in terms of the comments written on it.

“White people get away with everything!” is a great example of something like this. White privilege is a real concept that effects everyone in the United States. But having a statement on a piece of paper isn’t enough to change or convince anyone on anything.

Whether you deny or agree with the notion of white privilege, having someone come and fill out a one-liner by themselves does nothing. You have your people who agree and those who disagree, there’s no discussion, no facts, and no information to even explain the background or context to the statement on these posters.

This isn’t to say that there weren’t some fantastic responses. I read some well thought out and genuine opinions that were worth reading and learning from, but this opens another issue. Most racist people don’t want to do something that’ll put them at the risk of getting caught, so it becomes an echo chamber of people preaching to their own choir.

Another issue that should’ve been obvious is this: let’s assume someone filled out any of the stereotype posters in defense of the statements written, now you’re having a school approved document on the walls of people’s temporary homes with hateful garbage written for them to walk past every day.

I agree that these statements are important to acknowledge because they‘re said often. By doing so, we can break down the walls of dumb and shitty lies that are spewed to pit us against one another. But don’t force people to walk past these shitty things that may have been said to them in their lives. I don’t think it’s controversial for a white dude to say this.

Nobody wants to be pushed into a corner. Ever.

This whole process could’ve worked too, assuming that everyone in the college was persuaded to go the event to discuss the statements. But we aren’t in high school, so, you can’t force people to attend events.

I guess where I’m going with all of this is that if we ever want to open our eyes and all see together, we need to discuss our issues in person. I can guarantee that this could’ve worked if the event was just an open discussion for students about these statements, but instead, Mercy tried to force students to face these issues head-on without consent. Now, we have nothing more than a community of students who have moved nowhere but backward.

As Angela Davis best said, “We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.”

It’s always important to remember that we’re all human beings who want to be treated with equity, but unless we discuss and learn from one another, we’ll make no serious change. And without opening the door, you can never really go inside.


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