by Dr. Karma R. Chavez
Dear Dean Berquam and Chancellor Blank,
I am writing to you about the racist incidents that have happened in the last several days on this campus, one against a Native American elder, and the second where a student spat in the face of another student in the UW First Wave program. The second incident happened to students I know and care about (not that that should make a difference), and once again, it is students, staff and faculty of color who bear the burden of what is a regularly hostile environment for us.
I recognize the full responsibility for student climate does not fall on your shoulders, but I want to strongly discourage more diversity forums and campus wide conversations that do little more than make administrators feel good about feeble efforts to make changes–many of them not structural–to this institution. When a young white person feels empowered enough to spit in the face of a young woman of color, his colleague and peer, in her home, that can only happen in an environment that tacitly (or actively) supports such behavior. And as you fully know, these are not isolated incidents.
Students of color on this campus have been screaming for your legitimate response to the racist environment they live in, and they deserve more than another conversation. They deserve a campus wide affirmation of the demands that they have attempted to present to the Chancellor, the System President and the Board of Regents for months now.
Students of color live in an environment where standardized tests still determine their legitimacy, where their white peers often feel and express to them that the only reason they are here is because of some scholarship program of which they are academically unworthy, and where the micro- and macro-aggressions they experience on a daily basis send many into mental health crises for which there are virtually no culturally appropriate support services on campus. This is beyond unacceptable.
As a queer woman of color and a tenured faculty member on this campus, I join them in their demands and I also demand a swift response to the particular incidents in question. Unlike other people, I don’t believe expulsion is necessarily the right answer. I believe the victims of these incidents should be consulted so that a proper justice process can be implemented and followed through so that their harm can be addressed as they see fit. There are plenty of resources in this community that can assist you with such a transformative process; I would personally recommend hiring and consulting the organization, Freedom Inc.
How you continue to handle these incidents has a direct impact on how students of all colors feel about what is right and appropriate at UW. As a close ally and mentor to many students of color, I can assure you they are watching, and they aren’t expecting much. How about UW surprises them?
Karma R. Chávez