Connor Evans and co-written by Isabel Barbosa
As I reflect in the midst of my final year at Bryant University on much of the personal growth I have undergone and the people I have met, I feel as though I am in a far more peaceful and enlightened place than I was when I entered the institution at age eighteen. Why then, I ask myself, do I have such a feeling of emptiness in my heart when I think about the school I have called home?
Recently, I sat down and had a discussion with fellow students regarding a malevolent incident of racism that occurred during Super Bowl weekend. What started out as a tense and guarded discussion about one of America’s most deeply-rooted problems manifesting in our community, would end as a greater and more emotional forum around injustices felt on campus and in society at large.
While it never took the form of a venting session, we heard several students share personal stories and interpretations of some of the goings-on at Bryant University. There were weigh-ins on how the institution has handled incidents like these in the past, how they should be handled, and what our expectations were for the unfortunate and maddening incident that took place during Super Bowl weekend.
What became clearest to me; however, is that Bryant’s issue lies not so much in the hands of how the university handles issues, but how our student culture does. Where is the sense of community? We are all very quick to criticize the things we find wrong with the school—and rightfully so—yet where and when can we find the sense of accountability among our peers, among our community members?
What goes on here on campus is a direct result of the culture we foster as a community. The way that we treat one another is learned behavior from our group as a whole. Evidently, we as a collective have somehow allowed for a culture to exist that tolerates hateful speech, bigotry, and isolationism. I am as much a perpetrator of this as anyone reading this, as culture is not forged by individuals but by our collective efforts.
I am a large proponent of learning and healing. Forgiveness toward one another for transgressions is vital to recovery. Not everything we do needs to be together and we do not need to like the same things or practice the same traditions. But please, can we respect one another? Can we stick up for someone who is being mistreated? Why does it take a well-written, viral Facebook post to get us to question the status quo? We let it reach this point and quite frankly, there are a lot of people who are fed up.
Incidents like this most recent one have gone on for a long time at Bryant, and it seems we are only addressing this one because someone put it on a platform. I am not just talking about race. I am talking about general engagement with others. Can you say you have never seen anyone treat someone else poorly on campus for no reason? These violations of the ordinary love we should feel for one another occur too frequently and are rarely addressed. I am not calling for everyone to be best friends or act like they are family mebers. I am, however, suggesting that we finally start helping one another feel welcome in the place we all call, “home” in Smithfield, Rhode Island. The fact that there are people on this campus who feel and have felt they have nowhere to turn to at times of hardship proves we all have failed.
We, as a community, must do more. We must respect and learn from one another because without doing so, there will be no change. We must continue to speak up in times where inequality is evident. By doing this, we can disrupt harmful stereotypes and misconceptions people have of others. This struggle has been going on for far too long. It is incredibly unfortunate that we must continuously tell people that using words shrouded in so much hatred to refer to Black people is ignorant and unacceptable. Like many who have come before us, we are trying to improve the coexistence between people of ANY race or origin. Efforts by some of humanity’s brightest individuals have been put forth over hundreds of years, and will continue to be put forth, until we can say that our collective mission is accomplished. We will keep talking about racial inequality until it is no longer a problem.
While we may be seeing, thinking, and feeling the effects of these kinds of issues here at school, we know that this problem is far greater than our campus. Our country needs to do better, the world needs to do better—but that starts here. Bryant University needs to do better. Bryant University CAN do better. We have to start improving in our own community first. Then, and only then, will we be able to spread this long overdue change. We cannot and will not be silent until there is a culture at Bryant of respect for others, no matter their background or the color of their skin. Bryant is OUR home. It is time we all felt welcome.
Reflect. Reflect on yourself. There is always more to be learned. We all make mistakes, and rather than letting our pasts define us, we can see our errors and insensitivities as opportunities to improve. Our classmates are being affected by these words and messages, and it is up to us to ensure that everyone feels safe.
We, as the Black community at Bryant want to see more. These recent situations are certainly not the first time that people on this campus and members of our community have been harmed by issues of race and racial prejudice. Perhaps try listening to someone’s story—many of your classmates have incredible ones to tell. Maybe try looking into the embattled history of our Black ancestors. Read news with a different eye, a different perspective. Attend even ONE Black History Month event. Maybe then you will finally begin to understand why it bothers us so much when you just say one word.