The Institution is the Problem: Graduate Students Respond to Racism on Campus

The recent post on a student’s Facebook page the week of November 17 frightened and disgusted graduate students across campus. We were horrified by the acts of overt racism and worried about the risk that such threats posed to students. But we want to clarify to the administration that the problem of racism on campus is institutional, not incidental. This event reminded us of the many other acts of discrimination and intolerance that have taken place on campus and in the South Side again and again:

As graduate students who study and work at this university, we stand in solidarity with the students and faculty who have publicly demanded that the university work to change the climate of hostility created as a result of acts of violence, intolerance and exclusion. Administrative equivocation and delay are inexcusable. This is not an isolated act, and it should not be treated as such.

Thus far, the administration’s response fails to address the substantive demands that have emerged from the student body. A petition signed by a diverse group of concerned students, faculty, and community members demands the university administration adopt short-term and long-term strategies to combat a climate of racial intolerance at the University of Chicago.

In recent weeks, the administration has side-stepped the issue entirely by recycling vague rhetoric about taking expressions of hate “seriously.” Karen Warren Coleman’s “Update on Facebook Incident” e-mail is a PR statement that condemns an individual’s statements for not adhering to the administration’s definition of “discourse.” The campus community was informed that the student’s Facebook account was not hacked. We urge the administration to move beyond questions of individual culpability.

Contrary to the insistence of the President, Provost, and the Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services, we regard all these recent events as “discourse,” and specifically as part of our campus discourse. As ugly as this discourse can be, it reflects something about our campus and cannot be dismissed as alien and beneath comment.

Ongoing, safe and transparent discussions of how to address and prevent individual and institutional forms of racism on campus should take place publicly and with the active consent and input of aggrieved students. Administrative responses to the Facebook incident have tried to resolve an isolated event without addressing the larger environment of racial hostility on campus. The “continued discussion and action steps” are neither specific nor are they proactive, especially considering that a sizable group of students has already presented a cogent and actionable plan to address the pattern of racist acts on campus. Instead of admitting to the structural problem of racism, the email urges students who have been traumatized by the events of the past two weeks to seek counseling services. Such an attitude sends a message: If you are the victim of racialized hostility, it is up to you to seek resources for recovery.

We demand that the administration announce substantive steps to address the short-term
and long-term demands of the petitioners, including: (1) a campus climate survey, (2) cross- cultural competency programs, (3) increased accountability and transparency in administrative responses to racist and sexist aggressions against students, (4) curricular development expanding diversity and equity, (5) diversification of the faculty and student body.

Signatories

Hannah Chazin – Anthropology
Ray Noll – Political Science/Anthropology
Jay Sosa – Anthropology
Daniela Licandro – EALC
Emilio Comay del Junco – Philosophy/Social Thought
Kamil Ahsan – Biological Sciences
Claire Roosien – NELC
Taimoor Shahid – SALC
Francey Russell – Philosophy
Katie Gibson – SSA
Kristen Ethier – SSA
Eric Powell – English
Andrew Yale – English
Cait Quinlivan – SSA
Jorge Lefevre Tavarez – RLL
Trish Kahle – History
Rafadi Hakim – Anthropology
Abhishek Bhattacharyya – SALC
Tamara Kamatovic – Germanic Languages and Literatures
Basil Salem – History
Sharvari Sastry – SALC
Mannat Johal – Anthropology
Tanima Sharma – Anthropology

Dasha Polzik – Philosophy
Maryam Sabbaghi – Divinity
Alejandra Azuero Quijano – Anthro (“Thanks to those who organized this.”)
Madeleine Elfenbein – NELC
Bastian Reinert – German
Saul Thomas – Anthro
Amanda Blair – Political Science
Ilana Miller – History
Yan Wang – Neurobiology
Anna Weichselbraun – Anthropology
Mirjam Berg – Germanic Studies
Natalia Piland – Evolutionary Biology
Ahona Panda – SALC
Daniela Palmer – Evolutionary Biology
Michaela Appeltova – History
Dustin Stalnaker – History (alumni)
Emily Dreyfus – Germanic Studies
Oya Topcuoglu – NELC
Leah Goldman – History
Marc Kelley – Anthropology
Miriam Tripaldi – Music (“We want to know the truth!”)
Claire Bowman – Anthropology
Sebastian Heilpern – Ecology and Evolution
Cameron Hu – Anthropology
Lauren Sutherland – Anthropology
Annie Greene – NELC
Sonia Grant – Anthropology
Elizabeth Fiedler – RLL
Sarah Adcock – Anthropology
Mike Rotch – Sociology MA (“I wholeheartedly support the demands of the petition.”)
Maria E. Balandran-Castillo – History
Maria Gutierrez Bascon – RLL
Gabrielle Friedman – UTEP
Eilat Maoz – Anthropology
Hanna Torrence – College
Rachel Schine – NELC
Catherine Klingman – College (“I support the original petition created by undergrad students, as well as everything said and asked for in this letter.”)
Luis Amaya – UTEP
Malarvizhi Jayanth – SALC
Mariana Brandman – History
Sayantan Saha Roy – Anthropology
Joseph O’Hara – UTEP
Jo Brill – SALC
Kristen Simmons – Anthropology
Joshua Mendelsohn – Philosophy
Erin Epperson – SALC
Fabian Arzuaga – Political Science
Roy Kimmey – History
Emma Kalb – SALC
Supriya – Evolutionary Biology
Diana Schwartz – History
Katelyn Stangl – Linguistics (alumni)
Rory O’Connell – Philosophy
Jack Mullee – Anthropology
Ashley Lyons – SALC
Emily Dupree – Philosophy
Elizabeth Sartell – Divinity
Allison Kanner – Divinity
Rao Mohsin Ali Noor – Middle Eastern Studies
Hannah McKeown, Philosophy
Amos Browne, Philosophy
Mathis Koschel, Philosophy
Matt Teichman, Philosophy
Stephen Haswell Todd, Germanic Studies

Show your support

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