RA questions race dynamics within Office of Residential Life

By admin Nov 16, 2012 #ORL #race dynamics



RAs are supposed to follow ORL’s mission statement: “to facilitate enjoyable, sustainable and inclusive communities that support and enhance students’ academic achievement and personal development.”

However, RAs aren’t doing this. Members of my RA staff make fun of their residents – international students and people of color – behind their backs, mimicking their accents and making harsh racial jokes about them.

What’s even worse is that these racial comments are made in front of the professional ORL staff, the Resident Director (RD).

As my fellow staff members were making fun of their residents’ foreign accents and habits, my boss laughed and, through the interaction, perpetuated the jokes.

I would like to point out that these comments were made by the white staff members in front of several people of color on my staff, who later said they felt uncomfortable and attacked. How can an organization boast about developing such “inclusive” communities when these attacks are allowed?

Trying to create awareness of multiculturalism on IWU’s campus, ORL created the Multicultural Educator position. Through this position, MEs are supposed to “plan and implement programs and diversity efforts, furthering the cause of social justice through cultural education.”

However, MEs fail to educate residents on diversity and multicultural awareness, typically resorting to food as the only aspect of cultural education.  This does not teach residents diversity but rather labels a culture only by its food and not by the complexity of its story in history and in the current society.

Have you ever attended a “Mexican Taco Night” or “Japanese Sushi Extravaganza?”  These events don’t touch on social justice or diversity, and residents living in the halls are left uneducated.

As a white RA, I have never encountered so much racism in an academic setting. This year has been mind-blowing, and I’d like to share with you fellow readers how racism persists in our community.

There has been a roommate conflict between two of my residents, who shall remain anonymous.  One, a white student, deliberately disrespected the roommate, a student of color. When I first heard that there was a conflict between the two, I thought it would be a typical, petty conflict. However, the mediation between us revealed the underlying issue.

According to the roommate, the white resident seemed nervous and uncomfortable when the roommate was in the room with friends, other people of color. When confronted, the white student said there was nothing wrong with them and they were nice people.  The student of color asked, “Then what’s the problem? Why are you uncomfortable if you think we’re nice?”

Awkward silence. All three of us knew that the issue was simply skin color. But no one admitted it – no one wanted to be the “racist.”

After this, the pair was split, so the racism ended there, right? Wrong. The white resident and other members of the floor began to spread rumors and posted negative statements (even pictures!) about the resident of color on social media websites. As a result, my predominantly white floor glares and verbally attacks the resident of color and friends behind their backs, even though they have never gotten to know the students of color.

How is my resident of color supposed to feel welcomed on the floor? This is not the First-Year experience students hope for.  These events have had negative social, academic and emotional consequences – the student of color is considering  transferring.

I brought the issue up to the RD, saying that racism is happening on my floor and action must be taken. My boss looked at me and said this is “normal” and that it’s a “part of college.” This situation cannot be normal – the student is 50/50 on transferring.  If my RD were correct, IWU would have no retention of students of color.

My point of writing this article is not to destroy anyone’s reputation. I just want the community to be more aware of what’s going on. If we are afraid of talking about racism, then how are we going to tackle the issue?  The actions of the white residents on my floor are unacceptable. Everyone has prejudices, but having them and acting on them are very different.

By admin

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