By Liam McGurl
[Photo retrieved from sbu.edu]
Recent social media dialogue between current Bonaventure students, faculty and alumni regarding the recent events at the University of Missouri has sparked a cultural conversation on campus.
According to the Associated Press, a series of protests ensued after university officials’ alleged poor handling of racial issues at the University of Missouri (Mizzou) was publicized. As a result of these protests and media spotlight on Mizzou, Tim Wolfe, the university president, and Richard Bowen Loftin, the university chancellor, were asked to resign—creating controversy between both sides of the race-related issue.
On Friday, Nov. 19, a photograph featuring a group of Bonaventure students holding a sign reading “#SBU Stands With Mizzou” was posted on the university Facebook page. Students said that the incentive behind this photograph was to express Bonaventure’s support of Mizzou student’s actions to combat on-campus discrimination. Students added that the photograph was also a statement against similar discrimination that happens at Bonaventure.
While many students and faculty said they viewed the photograph as nothing more than positive support for a righteous cause, many said they were shocked by alumni reactions to the post.
Within the first few moments of the photograph’s posting, alumni commented expressing their disapproval of recent race-related initiatives on campus, as well as campus support for the Mizzou protests. Some of the comments included:
“As an Alum of SBU I am extremely disappointed and ashamed! Sickening!!”
“This is embarrassing as an alum of Bona’s to see.”
“Very disappointing. Perhaps the SBU students should consider the assaults on free speech and the manufacture of grievances that have occurred at Mizzou before making a feel good statement.”
“Are you guys crazy?”
“You have got to be kidding. Find a real cause. Please don’t waste your time on silly, non substantive posturing.”
Anne-Claire Fisher, an assistant professor of education, has been involved in the recent on-campus #RaceMatters campaign and said she struggles to understand some of the commentary she has read.
“I have a hard time accepting intolerance in any form,” Fisher said. “To me, those comments illustrated a level of ignorance and, in some ways, what I consider to be typical pushback from a white population that doesn’t understand its own privilege. It’s not about blaming, it’s more about understanding where [students are] coming from.”
According to Fisher, “white pushback” is often the result of privileged individuals realizing that their own privilege ought to be questioned.
“I think when a white population starts to feel their privilege should be questioned, they take it personally,” said Fisher. “It’s not just about you, it’s about systemic racism. We’ve never had to question our privilege because it’s just there. If you go outside of your area and you become the minority, often by traveling, you feel isolated and have to make efforts [to understand].”
Nicole Gonzalez, the executive director for Residential Living and Conduct and a #RaceMatters committee member said that, although she is not a person of color, she tries to acknowledge these societal differences in privilege.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 68 percent of Bonaventure’s student population identifies as white. Students of color make up around 20 percent of the student population.
“Any student that is marginalized feels that they don’t have a voice or that there isn’t an environment that celebrates them being there,” Gonzalez said. “Often times, if you’re not someone who is in that marginalized category, you’re unaware that students feel that way.”
Gonzalez said that while free speech allows for disapproval, she hopes that those in opposition attempt to understand and sympathize for students “very real” experiences.
“To simply say that race is not an issue on college campuses, as in some of the comments that were listed, I felt was offensive to our students,” Gonzalez said. “I felt that those comments were very much ignoring the real issue.”
According to Gonzalez, while it’s easy to get hung up on the actions taken in Mizzou, the real issue at hand is injustice. Gonzalez said that speaking out against injustice was student’s real motivation for posting the photograph.
“I feel that it is important for us to stand with Mizzou because here at St. Bonaventure, there is much racism and discrimination that goes on and is not addressed,” Dominick Nicasio, a sophomore sociology major said. “Being a HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) student, many people are judgmental and discriminatory towards us for being from where we may be and for having a scholarship for being less fortunate.”
Nicasio added that he believes many of the Facebook comments may have simply stemmed from alumni’s lack of knowledge regarding issues that affect current Bonaventure students.
Kevin Montes, a sophomore strategic communications and digital media major agreed and said he has experienced discrimination at Bonaventure also.
“I stood in solidarity with Mizzou because I’m a student of color who has experienced racism on a college campus,” Montes said. “It was important to bring awareness to the fact that these things are going on. Some comments were definitely a mixture of both racism and ignorance. Some comments were directed to attack us students personally and racism could be the only reason as to why anyone would want to do that.”
Montes added that he feels ignorance is a “serious problem” at Bonaventure, often due to people’s lack of firsthand experiences dealing with racism. He said he hopes those unaffected will try to understand the negative implications racism has on a person.
Fisher said that the ongoing #RaceMatters campaign has provided an outlet for students to discuss a variety of injustice-related issues, and will continue to do so throughout the year. Fisher added that she believes a monitored discussion panel may be a good way for students to discuss this specific occurrence.
“The #RaceMatters approach has been one of the most exciting initiatives I’ve seen,” Fisher said. “I think there needs to be a place that we can have a candid dialogue—a facilitated dialogue where people can learn how to have non-violent communication where you can just be ‘real,’ civil and communicate with each other. To me, the only way is through dialogue.”
Students interested in the #RaceMatters initiative are encouraged to check the university notice board for upcoming #RaceMatters events.