IWU needs to take a stronger stand against racial inequality

By adviser Mar 5, 2021

In the time of a racial pandemic, it is more important than ever to give people of color a voice. And while I am a white woman writing this and I know the hypocrisy that comes with writing an article on this subject, I fear that perhaps the only way to get white people to listen to voices of color is to have another white person convince them first. I do not mean to speak on behalf of the students of color here at IWU, but rather to direct the attention of white staff and administrators to the racial inequities and injustice. 

The IWU BIPOC Instagram account started last September with the intention of giving “BIPOC students / alumni / faculty / staff the opportunity to share stories anonymously,” as explained in their first post. The first several posts reflect this, and the Instagram account has continued to shine a light on the unfair treatment of students, faculty and staff of color at IWU. Multiple anonymous posts call out specific professors and administrators, and a recent post directly addresses Saga for its “horrific imitation of black culture.” These particular posts are not necessarily calls to action but do draw attention to specific incidents and people who are making this campus a more dangerous place for students of color. Though there has not been direct violence from these individuals, this perpetuates an environment where even the smallest microaggressions can be tolerated by the university and its administrators without any corrections or consequences.

Other posts do call on students and faculty to act. One post from February suggests that students need to move beyond passive social justice like posing with BLM stickers and hashtags and instead attend BSU meetings and different cultural events on campus. And while this is a great idea, when white people do attend these events, they need to keep quiet and observe. Speaking up and drowning out voices of color is not the right way to go about it. Again, I say this as a white woman, where my voice is potentially covering up others – but perhaps this will at least get the conversation started.

For students who are trying to better the climate on campus, we need to actually speak out. A post from January 30 ends, “Now is the time for us to speak up and out about the campus instead of hiding behind a social media page.” I understand that the consequences of speaking out against a university you attend may be drastic and could potentially jeopardize academics and social life on campus, but this has gone on long enough. Now, more than ever, it is time to take a stand. Do not be ashamed to speak your mind but continue to amplify voices of color and show them the respect that they deserve. 

 While many people had complained that there were no clear goals from the BIPOC Instagram, it was clear to a majority of people what students want. Even still, Jasmyn Taylor, class of 2022, highlighted the goals that were compiled by the BSU, members of ODI and other students of color. Such goals included: “actual, meaningful anti-racist training by professionals,” “increase BIPOC faculty and staff” and “accountability and a clear process to stop bias/hate.” Their requests are not too much to ask and frankly are the bare minimum of what IWU needs to do in order to promote a more inclusive campus.

Manipulating students of color to pose as token students for advertisements and recruitment is a false strategy and a lie. Several students have spoken up about how when they arrived on campus, they were shocked to not see the plethora of students of color as promised. If IWU’s racial climate is going to change, we need to start being honest with how we portray our university and how we want to move forward. I highly encourage administrators, faculty and staff to think about how they talk about issues of race on campus. We’re seeing a national call to action for racial equity, and IWU has barely done anything to join this movement. Several allies have left the university this past year, and though there have been some new hires, this does not erase how students, staff and faculty view what is happening at the school. If we are to see any action from the university and administration, it needs to be direct and clear. 

I can only speak on my experiences as a white woman on campus. I cannot begin to understand the difficulties that come with being a student of color in an environment that tolerates microaggressions and racist behavior from people in authority positions. I do not intend to speak on the behalf of anyone but rather to draw attention to the voices that need to be heard. If IWU wants to make a difference, they need to listen to what students are saying and actually take it into consideration. This is supposed to be a functioning university, not a place where students talk about their experiences with disdain. If IWU is to survive, the administration needs to make changes immediately.

By adviser

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