HASHIM: A striking distance
African-American students remain marginalized at the University
It’s 2014 and we still have to cope with blatant racial tension — something especially endemic to the University. This Monday marked a national holiday in the memory of Dr. King, a civil rights martyr, and just a week prior to it, the words “UVA HATES BLACKS” were written over the Elson Student Health sign. Bizarre, right? However, most of the University community has failed to see the absurdity of this. When I saw a picture of it taken by a friend, I immediately expected buzz — the kind of buzz that would stir up intense dialogue and critical thinking about the context in which these words were written. Much to my dismay, there was very little talk and few of my friends even bothered to read or tell others about it.
In spite of the fact that the action was reported so poorly, making it seem like a minuscule issue, no one cared to reflect on the symbolism behind the words. People have instead chosen to focus on whether a white or black person wrote the bold phrase. No matter who wrote it, or what his/her skin color is, the act expresses the reality of some sentiments toward and treatment of African-American students here. There is no scientific answer, but maybe University students are somehow disillusioned by the image and so-called “prestige” of this university, and thus get caught up in a culture that falls short of integrating people.
From Greek life, to wardrobe, to student activities, many things have been racialized to either black or white. On a university level, the percentage of African-American students has significantly dropped over the years. Perhaps this is an indication that the University Admissions Office is not doing enough to draw in African-American students. What broader agenda does the University have? Why haven’t there been any serious and mandatory race/humanistic talks on grounds? People need to question these things, especially when reading a sign that says “UVA HATES BLACKS.” Why don’t we ponder the reason that the person felt so compelled to write such a thing, instead of focusing on how it is “disappointing” (as the Newsplex article covering this story suggests)? No one should pretend that racial discrimination in general (not just at U.Va.) is a myth, yet not many want to discuss why black students feel marginalized here, or why things just seem to be separated (parties, activities, friend circles, etc.).
I obviously cannot speak for everyone, but as an African-born-immigrant student, I have personally observed a striking distance between white and black students, whether it may have been deliberately created or not. My most vivid memory of racial division at the University is being turned away at a frat party on Rugby because they only allowed “hot white chicks” (yes, this was actually said to me). However, many of such experiences are lived by students on an individual/student level — not on an administration or Board of Visitors level. But there are issues on the institutional level as well. I predict the Board’s recent decisions about AccessUVa will result in less diversity and fewer black students at the University. I am well aware that AccessUVa funds many white students and students of other ethnicities and races, but if the University wants to at least act like it want to increase African-American enrollment, cutting monetary aid is indeed counterproductive.
Of course, some African-American students believe that such statements and treatment will not be obstacles to their success. But as empowering as that attitude may be, we cannot simply be empowered without trying to harbor an environment that rids itself of a prestige-based culture, self-segregation and lack of transparency. I am truly astonished and disgusted by the silence about the painted phrase — which can be referred to as “vandalism” — and the fact that the coverage of it misses so many vital points of discussion. I’m not sure what the solution is, because I believe that people need to have an open outlook on humanity to understand that “race” is a mere social construct. And if people interact on a racial basis and not a pure, human basis, then mentalities are difficult to reverse. But if we stopped having small discussions that only draw in a certain crowd, and started doing school-wide, mandatory sessions on racial issues, then maybe it would be more effective. We must also keep in mind that if another similar action were to happen, it is undoubtedly a reaction, a frustration, or an observation of some sort, and as individuals of a supposed “Academical Village” seeking continuous knowledge, we must always inquire about what drives such actions.
Reem Ayman Hashim is a third-year Architecture student.