I am the kind of person who tries to have a positive outlook on life. I like to see the good in everyone, to think that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes it is hard to keep up this attitude. Sometimes we are faced with something so terrible, that it seems impossible to stay positive. This is something that I have been struggling with these past few days.
On Monday, September 21st, the Students for the Second Amendment brought Fox News pundit Katie Pavlich to UD to speak as a Second Amendment activist. Many students were outraged that the university would allow Pavlich, who has called the Black Lives Matter movement a “violent hate group,” to speak on our campus. They felt something had to be done, that their voices needed to be heard. In no time, a flyer was created and shared on Facebook, encouraging students to join together outside Mitchell Hall, where Pavlich was speaking, for a peaceful protest.
Fast forward to around 11:00PM on Tuesday, September 22nd, when my friend noticed a Facebook status stating that someone had hung a noose on a tree outside of Mitchell Hall where the protest had been held. My friends and I gathered around our friend’s cell phone, appalled that such an act of hatred could have happened on our campus. It left a sick feeling in my stomach as I walked back to my dorm that evening. Around 12:30AM I began receiving UD Alerts and emails addressing the incident and asking for students to provide any information that may help police investigate the hate crime. I am not sure how I was able to sleep that night.
The next morning, Wednesday, September 23rd, I awoke to more UD Alerts and emails saying that the objects had not been nooses, but instead were the remains of lanterns that had been hung there earlier in the year. While this was somewhat relieving, I knew that the fact that they were lanterns did not matter. What mattered was the fact that students felt threatened and unsafe on this campus that evening, that they saw those decorations and believed that students had hung up nooses, that social media was flooded with insensitive, racist comments regarding the incident. These events made it clear that the amount of racism and the lack of diversity on this campus is a real issue that needs to be addressed. Acting President Nancy M. Targett seemed to agree, inviting students to join her outside Memorial Hall at 4:30PM that day for a discussion about the incident.
I walked to my Women & Gender Studies (WOMS) class th at morning, unsure of what to think. As I sat in my seat, waiting to discuss the readings for the day, my professor decided that instead we needed to talk about what had just happened that evening. We spent the entire 50-minute class talking about our reactions and feelings, how it had affected us and our peers, why we thought it had happened, and what we could do moving forward. Similarly, last semester, after the incidents in Ferguson occurred, my WOMS professor spent the last hour of our 3-hour long class allowing us to express our feelings about Ferguson. I have never experienced anything like it – the entire class, including the professor, was crying as students told us about how being a black student at UD feels like being an outsider, like they do not belong here. It broke my heart to hear it last semester, and it made me angry to hear it once again this semester.
Why are we allowing this to happen? Why are we sitting around doing nothing, as students feel excluded and unsafe on our campus? Why is it that the percentage of minorities at our school doesn’t even match the makeup of minorities in the state of Delaware?
Furthermore, why is it that these important conversations are only happening in my WOMS classes? This is something that that does relate, that needs to relate, to everyone, so why aren’t all of my professors providing space for conversation about these issues?
At 4:30PM, I walked toward Memorial Hall, amazed at how many students, faculty, and community members had come to show their support. I listened as Targett expressed how “deeply disturbed [she was] to see how this incident exposed feelings of fear in students,” and how determined she is to find a solution to the racist climate that exists for too many students on this campus. I cringed as students read tweets and Yik Yak posts saying things like “The only problem with the nooses was that they were empty.” And I cried, as students and faculty members climbed those glistening steps, in front of hundreds of people, courageously and selflessly sharing their own experiences as people of color at UD. One student described how it felt his freshman year to be the only black student in a classroom for the first time in his life, and how lonely it was to come to that realization. Another student recited a powerful poem, called “To those who don’t understand the movement,” exclaiming that he “will scream Black Lives Matter from the top of [his] lungs” until he could see real change happen. One student didn’t even need to speak for him to get his point across to me – he apologized as a great sigh came from his lips. That sigh told me everything. That sigh showed just how tiring, how draining it is for these students to walk around campus everyday, their backpacks filled with fear, with hatred, with racist comment after racist comment, feeling as though they don’t belong here. I can’t imagine how it must feel to carry such a load every single day.
And now I sit here, staring at my computer screen, wondering what I am supposed to do in the aftermath of all these events. It feels like it all happened so fast, and hit us so hard. I look at my Facebook newsfeed and see the University of Delaware as the top trending story, wondering what the nation must think of us now. I think of the students who spoke at Memorial today, wondering what they are thinking and how they are feeling. I don’t know if anything will change tomorrow, or the next day. It will probably take a long time before we see real change happening on our campus. And while these past few days have felt like one huge nightmare, I know that something positive has come from it all. These events have shown me that our campus is ready to start having these necessary conversations, that we are ready to work, however long it may take, to create a safe, welcoming environment at UD for people of all races and backgrounds. It is going to take a while to heal from these wounds that cut us so deeply, but I look forward to healing together, as a school and as a community.
Ashley Dayne Bostwick
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