Students Speak Out: When Racial Conflict Arises, We Can't Choose Silence

“I am going to stand my ground, and shoot every black person I see tomorrow,” wrote one individual on Yik Yak, an anonymous social media application, last Tuesday night near the University of Missouri. Swelling racial tension between faculty, staff and students at the University of Missouri, provoked students of color to share on Twitter and social media their raw insecurities about coming to campus the next morning, and even from Georgia, my heart hustled with anxiety as the reality of this moment struck me. “Whoa, this is actually happening,” I thought. Prior to last week, the racial confrontations at Mizzou were not necessarily earth-shaking. In fact, every predominately white university struggles at some point to create an inclusive campus, and it was not only last week that students of color felt uncomfortable on campus. Sensibly, students of color often feel uncomfortable on campus, especially when there’s a school administration that fails to recognize racial issues on the campus. The only thing that separated the students of Mizzou from students across the country, are that these Mizzou students grew tired of waiting for change to occur. Consequently, Mizzou student leaders set out to ask their school’s administration to do one thing: recognize that there is a racial intolerance problem, and make a statement about past incidents. Thier calls were largely ignored, until Mizzou President Tim Wolfe was compelled to resign amidst the growing tension. “Racism does exist at our university, and it is unacceptable,” Wolfe said in a statement. “It is a long-standing, systemic problem which daily affects our family of students, faculty and staff. I am sorry this is the case.” Upon his resignation, his campus had already become the center of America’s race dialogue, and he became the symbol of how silence on important matters never solves racial confrontations. President Wolfe’s comments may have came too late to save his career, but his actions and inactions, do serve to convey a timeless message: When racial conflict arises, we must stand up and we must show up. Since only a minority student knows how it feels to be a minority student, school administrators must make every effort to hear the minority student perspective. When minority students feel ignored, what they truly feel is that their reality does not matter, that it almost does not exist, and that they are not even wanted. School administrators must work purposefully and substantively to ensure all students that their voices matter, their ideas matter and ultimately that they matter. Ignited by the bravery of the Mizzou student leaders, I reached out to my fellow social justice friend here at the University of Georgia, Tifara Brown, and together we began working with student organizations at our campus in Athens, Georgia to draft the following statement in solidarity with Mizzou.
We, the student organizations at the University of Georgia, stand in solidarity with the University of Missouri’s recent non-violent response to heightened racial confrontations on the university’s Columbia, Missouri campus. Thank you for organizing peaceful demonstrations by conducting marches, rallies, hunger strikes, and working with your community’s leaders. We understand that reawakening our moral consciousness around racial inequality, as the University of Missouri has done, requires bold and immediate action. In order to create substantive change that improves the lives of all people, we agree that conversations of unconscious bias, racial inequity, hatred, and prejudices can no longer be relegated as a fringe issue. We understand your desire and thirst for social justice, because we also fear a world where our children, and grandchildren will continue to grapple with the issues that we grapple with today. For many students of color, it is not difficult to observe how the criminal justice system treats our communities, how our society’s distorted sense of beauty perpetuates racism, how entertainment misrepresents or fails to represent our voice entirely, and how inaction from education and political leaders only affirm how much more work must be done. Like the University of Missouri, the racial makeup of University of Georgia’s student population remains wholly incongruent with our home state’s demographics despite nearly 55 years of desegregation. Similarly, racial comments at the University of Missouri have surfaced in similar means at the University of Georgia, therein sadly revealing what some students truthfully hold to be true about students of color. We understand that the evidence of racial intolerance at the University of Georgia and the University of Missouri are not mutually exclusive events, but sadly resembles what happens on many college campuses. Through your efforts, you are moving not only Columbia, Missouri, but also communities across the United States beyond acquiescence and into action, beyond recess and into response, and beyond latency and into liveliness. Today, we salute the leadership you have modeled at the University of Missouri, and will carry on your spirit of justice across our University of Georgia community in Athens, Georgia.
So, this is how the University of Georgia has stood up and stood out in response to the events in Columbia, Missouri. What are you doing?
Photo of UGA Students, Courtesy of Charles Orgbon III.
Charles Orgbon III is the Founder of Greening Forward and advocates for youth voice and leadership.

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