As I walked up to Varsity Hall in Union South Tuesday morning, I was put into a state of discomfort — a state that I would realize was the theme of the day. As I peered into the room, I scanned the faces of the participants. I fell short of what I was eager to see. I did not recognize many student faces. I did not see my colleagues. I only saw faculty and community members.
This is a Diversity Forum. This is the place to discuss the community and campus diversity, a discussion so layered that it needs to span from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. the next day.
Why was I one of the few students there? Where were the people who are directly affected and experience everyday life on campus? I know students feel strongly about the matters discussed throughout the day, but why weren’t they there?
Lack of communication.
Students, community members and maybe even some faculty were not made aware of this crucial event, is my conclusion. I think this lack of interaction and communication with administrators on campus goes to show the relationship between them and us. We as students are distant and unable to communicate our opinions and ideas to the people who have the power to implement them on campus.
An underlying tone I picked up on throughout the forum was communication. Why was it that I, a student who considers myself very involved with campus especially when dealing with diversity, have to go on a hunt to find the information about these events and discussions? Every student should have the opportunity to have information easily and effectively communicated to them.
Maybe this event was so under-communicated because it is for a group that already feel like they aren’t a part of campus — minority students. Students of color feel distant from the “Wisconsin Experience” we always hear about.
This topic was brought up in one of the breakout sessions I attended, “Strategies for Resilience for Women of Color.” Now in this session, the energy was amazing. You have five strong women of color, from all over this country and the world, describing their experience with the University of Wisconsin. They all have been here for at least years now, and yet continue to stay. They have stayed because they recognized that Madison needed change, and continues to need change. These strong, resilient, adaptive women stayed, not because they felt like they belonged but because they want this change.
In other breakout sessions, strong and passionate speakers also had their moments to shine. Speakers like Brandi Grayson and Christopher Walker were not only necessary at the forum, but inspiring. Their voices may have been received as rageful and violent, but they weren’t. They were just voicing their experiences and opinions. The common stereotype of “angry black people” isn’t really anger. It is just perceived as anger due to passion.
A white woman in the audience addressed this “rage” and brought up a quote from Michelle Alexander:
“The rage may frighten us. But we should do no such thing. Instead, when a young man who was born in the ghetto and who knows little of life beyond the walls of his prison cell and the invisible cage that has become his life, turns to us in bewilderment and rage, we should do nothing more than look him in the eye and tell him the truth.”
This comment was in response to Grayson, member of the panel, who was in her “preacher” mode and interrupted by a white woman in the back of the room disagreeing with Grayson. At the end of her argument, she claimed Grayson as being racist because Grayson had called her out on her white privilege the instant this woman interrupted her.
Grayson then also dismissed the commenting audience member quoting Alexander, with the argument of comfort. The argument that white people strive for comfort, especially in situations and conversations like this one.
These conversations, ones that were likely to happen at the Diversity Forum, should be conversations that happen in our everyday lives, not only in our ethnic studies classes. They should be conversations that make people uncomfortable and end in tears.
I am a mixed-race woman and I was on the brink of tears at the end of the day, not because I was uncomfortable, but because I was witnessing a conversation that needs to happen everywhere, not just with my friends of color, and my other ally friends. This conversation I was waiting to happen with a primarily white audience.
These are conversations that have to happen, but people are not, purposefully or not, having them. You don’t have to agree with what we’re saying, but you do need to realize the importance of these words. Words people of color, people within the LGBTQ community and women have been saying since the beginning of time.
If you compare the issues of today with those in the 1950s, with those in the 1800s, they will resemble each other. Why haven’t we learned, as a country, to take a step back from our self-righteous ideology and listen? Just listening is sometimes all you can do and all that is asked.
At the end of the day, though, I left it on a positive note. I recognized I had more self-examining to do, recognized that the campus has more work to do and recognized that communication and education need to be more of a topic.
I left the day tired, yet energized. Left it content, yet unsatisfied. The day was emotional for all who attended, which proves to show how important days like that day are for this campus and community.
Kaitlynne Rolling ([email protected]) is a sophomore with an undecided major.