I was heartened by the hundreds of students, staff, administrators, and faculty who packed themselves into the Oak Room for FUSA’s “Ghetto” Forum on Thursday, February 25, 2016.  A great number of people, however, were unable or unwilling to attend, and I would like my words to reach them as well.

To reiterate and elaborate upon what I said to the audience at the Forum:

For all those students who say that they are shocked, surprised, and embarrassed by this “Ghetto” themed party, I am embarrassed of you. Because this is nothing new…

Over a year ago, students chained themselves to the Stag statue as a demonstration in the Black Lives Matter movement. Many in the student body responded: “white lives matter,” “white lives matter,” “white lives matter.” This response ridiculed the movement even further with statements such as “Wookie Lives Matter” or even the recent response “Hot Dogs Lives Matter,” and the use of blatantly racist statements such as “if I were a cop I would have shot 12 times.”

In the following months, students held a second demonstration in the lobby of the library during the final exam period. As we lay peacefully on the library floor, hosting a die-in to stand in solidarity with others throughout the country, students kicked us as they walked by and shouted that, “you should all be studying for exams.” Other students passing by even wished harm to those peacefully protesting, asking “can somebody pull the fire alarm so that we can trample these protestors?”

In Fall 2015, our Fairfield Black Lives Matter movement, called Racial Justice is Social Justice held a third demonstration in solidarity with Yale University and the University of Missouri.  We marched from the library to the Stag Statue, stopping at various locations around campus. I walked with a sign (as pictured above) that called for an awareness of white privilege: “I feel comfortable on campus but my black brothers and sisters don’t.” This demonstration culminated outside of the Barone Campus Center where we stood, dressed in black, on either side of the entrance, holding these signs, hoping to raise awareness of this issue at Fairfield University.  Some students walked this gauntlet, many walked around it, others found other exits from the building.  Only two white male students showed the courage to build alliances walking through and then joining the movement.

President Fr. Jeffrey Von Arx, S.J. was invited to participate in our march. He arrived, shook hands, took photographs, and was offered a spot at the head of our column as we wound our way throughout campus. Yet, he refused to lead our procession. He refused to walk in the center of Fairfield’s students. Instead he chose to trail our procession, dropping further and further behind with claims that “this is your movement, you planned this, you go ahead and lead it.”  To his credit, this was more than many university presidents have been willing to do.  But the question remains, is it enough, especially at a Jesuit university where social justice and diversity are two pillars of our mission.

“Ghetto” is not a style, but a derogatory term used to devalue the lived experience of people in poor urban contexts who struggle to survive. It is defined in the dictionary as “a part of the city, especially a slum area, occupied by a minority group or groups”.

Racial discrimination and prejudices are not invisible on this campus. Race operates to create systems of oppression in the everyday lives of my black and brown peers.

Because of my white privilege, I can be sure that the majority of people in Barone will be people of my race–I can be sure the majority of my servers will not.

Because of my white privilege, I can be sure that my peers aren’t watching to see my reaction when I’m in my history core.

Because of my white privilege I’m never charged with the responsibility for speaking for my whole race when I am in class.

Because of my white privilege, I don’t get called pretty for a white girl.

Because of my white privilege, if I need to speak to the “person in charge,” department heads, or Jesuit Fathers, I can be sure that I am facing a person of my race.

Because of my white privilege, if I’m a tall male, I’m not assumed to be on the basketball team because of my race.

Because of my white privilege, people say hello to me when I walk by them.

So, my response to all those students who are so “shocked, surprised, and embarrassed,” I am embarrassed of you. Race issues across campus have been systematic and symptomatic for the past several years. But, you are only mobilized to care when race issues at Fairfield University get featured in The New York Times. In other words, you only care when race issues start to affect your privilege andyour reputation.

I am additionally dismayed by Fairfield University’s administration. Where was your response during these preceding months? –to attend our demonstration and use it as a photo op? My peers’ acceptance and happiness on this campus is not a press release for you.

But, Fairfield’s Administration is not, and has never been, the driving force behind such programs that is claimed. The administration has responded to the incident with claims that “Fairfield sponsors many different cultural and affinity programs and clubs that strive to increase communication and collaboration among cultural and identity-based student organizations. We offer a number of clubs and organizations that promote diversity, like the Racial Justice Social Justice (RJSJ) Student Group, Ally Network and such academic offerings as the new Black Lives Matter course, launched in Spring 2016.” Despite administration assertions of involvement, Fairfield University offers a Black Lives Matter course because we, the students of Fairfield University, had to fight for it. RJSJ exists as a grassroots movement founded by students and enabled by the support of faculty. We had to chain ourselves to the central statue of our university to gain your attention. Wehad to face ridicule from our peers to gain your attention. We plan Racial Justice is Social Justice events. I do not believe the administration has the right to claim credit for the victories that have been student and faculty led.

Many of Fairfield University’s employees have allied with students over the past year. Inside the classroom, most professors carefully intertwine our Jesuit values into the course material and raise social justice awareness—making declarations of “ignorance” about minority realities a straw person argument. Outside of the classroom, faculty and staff have stood in solidarity, working tirelessly to support the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and participate in RJSJ meetings. The administration’s failure to properly address concerns over the “Ghetto” party undermines our faculty allies’ incessant collaboration to make campus a safe space.

At the “Ghetto” Forum debate held in the Barone Campus Oak Room, where was a speech from the administration? Why was the Father of my university not sitting with our class presidents? When I stand in solidarity with minority students and I speak out, I identify myself as a target for ridicule, ostracism, and aversion. However, even as non-Christian, I identify with the Jesuit values of social justice and visualize myself in terms of cura personalis as a woman for others.

As the club president of College Democrats, an employee of this university, and a student on this campus, I feel that it is not only my responsibility, but my duty to be a voice on this campus. Unlike the administration, the students who I speak out against are the same students with whom I attend class, work, eat, party and live with. Unlike the administration, I constantly face my peers. I speak out anyway. If I can do it, what is stopping Fairfield’s administration, whose actions will have little to no reflection on their personal lives? What is stopping the administration from upholding our Jesuit values?

I challenge my peers to hold all of Fairfield University accountable. A racial divide remains a very apparent and distressing issue that will not disappear unless we all do something about it. If you are not a part of the solution, you remain a part of the problem. I encourage this discussion to continue on and off Fairfield University’s campus.

 

CORRECTION: In the March 23 issue of The Mirror, the story “Exposing White Privilege” was found to contain information taken directly from Peggy McIntosh’s article, “WHITE PRIVILEGE AND MALE PRIVILEGE: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies,” involving bullets 21, 24 and 31. The Mirror staff is dedicated to producing original and ethical work. It is not only in our code of ethics, which highlights the importance of originality at all cost, but also in the pertinence of basic journalistic ethics that we address the issue in this article.

 

6 Responses

  1. Connor Murphy

    Have you considered that you are more likely to meet with someone who is white because the nation is 72.4% white while 12.6% black?

    Reply
  2. Anon Alum

    Alumni Here. People like you are ruining Fairfield.

    Every year there is a “White Trash Bash” party too. Rebutted.

    Hint #1: You have NO life experience yet but speak as if you have the mandate to steer everyone’s intentions. You want to come down to New York City and get a job after graduating? Are you going to tell the interviewer how to re-allocate their funds for social justice? You are brave with a soft target. Your outrage is worth ZERO Dollars.

    “Unlike the administration, the students who I speak out against are the same students with whom I attend class, work, eat, party and live with.”

    Hint #2: ‘Riley Barrett’ – Fast way to alienate yourself in a world where connections matter. End of the day BLM has no love for you either.

    Reply
    • Anon Alum

      There’s too much in this article that needs to be addressed. I’m actually trying to help you guys so our network does not become terrible.

      “I am embarrassed of your intentional ignorance, because this is nothing new. In the past year, students have held demonstrations at the Stag statue and a die-in in the library, but have only been met with ridicule.”

      1. When you grow up and go out into the world, you will realize the people throwing themselves on the ground and wailing in a perfectly ‘safe’ environment are children and you would do best to separate yourself from them.

      ————————-

      “At a demonstration in Fall 2015, President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J. was invited to participate in our march. He arrived, shook hands, took photographs and was offered a spot at the head of our column as we wound our way throughout campus. Yet, he refused to lead our procession or to walk in the center of Fairfield’s students. Instead, he chose to trail our procession, dropping further and further behind with claims that, “This is your movement, you planned this, you go ahead and lead it.”

      2. He is forced to deal with you because it is the most prevalent news issue for universities. This is politics and imaging for him. He participated. His not leading says everything he won’t. Now you own it! Congrats!

      ———————

      “To his credit, this was more than many university presidents have been willing to do. But the question remains, is it enough, especially at a Jesuit university where social justice and diversity are two pillars of our mission.”

      3. “The Revolution Devours It’s Own” – This comes from the French Revolution, where the virtuous 1st and 2nd phases were plagued by the question, “Is it Enough?”. Keep pushing for more and see what happens. When you come for their offices you will see what the Administration really thinks.

      —————–

      To the administration: You are making this University harder and harder to consider donating to or sending my children to.

      Reply
  3. John

    It is a nasty thing to do to proclaim that you are “embarrassed of your intentional ignorance” of a significant portion of our population that does feel frustrated with this event and its fall out. Who are you to be embarrassed of us? As “head of the College Democrats”, the party that is the supposed bastion of all that is tolerant, how can you ascribe the intentions of people you have never met as intentional ignorance? Very many of us are frustrated, and rightfully so. This party, perpetrated by a minuscule fragment of our population, has turned into a referendum on the “white privilege” and “fundamental bigotry” of the rest of us, and a rambling lecture about how all who disagree with the fundamental principle that dividing us based on the identity politics of race is not something Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when he proposed his descendants be judged not by their skin but their character. The thinking that somehow all people with white skin at Fairfield University are just whiny, coddled brats who have never been through a thing in their life and are simply unable to understand the struggle of black folks is the exact sort of gross, heinous generalization those on the left so frequently cry foul on.

    Reply
  4. Becky

    This is an excellent article! It really helps put things into perspective for those of us who do benefit from white privilege and therefore do not have to face racism each and every day like our fellow students of color do. I applaud you, Riley, for being bold enough and passionate enough to stand up to the ignorance and blatant racism found so frequently on our campus.

    Reply

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