A call to action over commencement, a lack of action over racism

Illustration by Ash Stothard.

Brianna Scott

Staff Writer

I find myself less and less proud to be a Ram, and it has more to do with the actions of some members of the student body rather than our school administration. When the university announced in October that the school-wide May commencement would be canceled, I thought it’d be a bump the road quickly glossed over. But the outcry from hundreds of students and parents proved so powerful that VCU magically found a venue to hold graduation despite having stating “none were available” a few days prior.

Students created a petition signed by hundreds. Disappointed parents reached out to administration and angered May graduates put together a small protest. These actions garnered the administration’s attention and it reinstated the spring 2019 commencement.

I’ll be the first to say I didn’t care about commencement. I graduate in the spring, and I plan on only attending my departmental ceremony because it is more intimate. That being said, I still stood by my peers and signed the petition because I recognized their concerns were valid.

My frustrations lie, however, in the fact that students seem to care more about a two-hour ceremony that won’t be remembered versus deep-rooted issues that affect the university’s population.

Many students still don’t know about the racial incident that took place Oct. 27 within VCUarts, when a white-Hispanic tenured professor called campus security on a black visiting professor. This racist incident parallels countless reported cases of white people calling the police on black people for simply existing. When that happens, black people fear being killed. This isn’t a hyperbole — it’s a fear many black people, myself included, have. Some students didn’t care about the VCUarts incident because they see the issue as isolated, or simply a misunderstanding. But even within the university, this incident is symptomatic of a larger problem.

Mobilization around trying to bring these incidents to light is tough. When I see many fellow Rams coming out to protest things like tuition hikes, gentrification, anti-choice demonstrators and VCU expansion, I wonder why they can’t show up for black and brown community members who are fighting for their right to unapologetically exist on campus. This issue extends to the LGBTQ+ community, those who are disabled, immigrants and other marginalized groups whose issues often get overlooked.

You can care about multiple issues without ignoring the others. It’s not a game of “oppression Olympics,” because all the issues I listed are legitimate. But the lack of genuine care for black and brown bodies on this campus is real.

Our school loves to tout the “diversity” and “inclusion” badges, yet they tokenize the minorities they bring in. When we get here, we aren’t safe or accepted.

Now, there are countless students on campus who care about these issues, and I am not discrediting them or generalizing the entire student body. I acknowledge that as an institution, VCU is our main target and we should hold it accountable when its core values aren’t upheld. Nevertheless, we can’t do that if students ignore issues simply because they don’t affect them personally. It’s human nature to care about issues that specifically affect us — but why would you want to live on a campus where racism is tolerated? Where your peers feel unsafe because of their identities?

I love this school. I love the friends I have made, and I care deeply about my peers — I give campus tours because I love talking about VCU and encouraging people to attend. But it’s getting difficult to talk about my school with admiration when individual, institutional and systemic bias is upheld and swept under the rug.

My call to action to my fellow Rams is to note that just because bias may not affect you, doesn’t mean isn’t affecting your friends, classmates and professors. We should all want our university to be a more accepting place for everyone. Whether people are protesting or just spreading information around, the things that go on around our school matter — every single incident, big or small. I’m not trying to pull a “Mean Girls” and tell everyone to “just get along,” but I want people to fight with passion and ferocity so we can change the institution inside and out.


1 Comment

  1. White people will only care about white issues, except in rare cases. It’s an unfortunate truth we all have to realize and come to grips with. I remember going to the national convention for a student org I was involved with and tried to get people involved in the struggle against police violence and it fell on deaf ears. I think all anyone can do is wait for a critical moment when a majority of white people *do* care, and ride what white outrage wave as far as it can take your work.

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