Thursday, October 22, 2020

Editorial: University responses to racism must be proactive, not just reactive

February 20, 2020
Members of MSU’s Black Student Alliance paint the Rock on Farm Lane as a part of their Black Revolt Week on February 19, 2020.
Members of MSU’s Black Student Alliance paint the Rock on Farm Lane as a part of their Black Revolt Week on February 19, 2020. —
Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

It’s mind-blowing that this deeply problematic and completely unacceptable display was ever put up in the first place, but what’s done is done — and now, it joins a long list of other racist incidents that happened at Michigan State this year. 

The Wharton Center incident — in which a racist display in the center’s gift shop depicted current and historical black figures hanging from trees — received national attention. It was even featured on the “Weekend Update” sketch of the Feb. 8 episode of Saturday Night Live. 

The last editorial we wrote about this alarming string of racist incidents — which include a toilet paper noose taped to the dorm room door of two black students and a survey distributed to the MSU community that contained racist slurs — was titled, “Racism needs consequences at MSU.” Historically, every time something like this happens, the university gives out a generic apology that is reactive instead of proactive. This time, that wasn’t necessarily the case.

Following this incident, MSU did lay out consequences in its response. Aside from recognizing how painful and traumatic this display was to community members and how it was “a disturbing reminder of our country’s history of terror and unrelenting brutality that targeted individuals based on their race,” President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. noted in his email that the Wharton Center is now undergoing a full restructuring of staff, including management, and will make “diversity within its workforce and volunteers a priority.”

In moving forward, the university must continue to ensure there are consequences for perpetrators of racism in our community and be proactive in the way it facilitates diversity education — and not just when it comes to staff and management at the Wharton Center. As Stanley wrote in his campus-wide email, “Our entire campus must view this as an opportunity to learn and reflect on what we can and should do to create a safe and inclusive culture.” At the last Board of Trustees meeting, he said training will be in place this fall.

Not much has been said or done past “listening” and “apologizing” by MSU when it comes to previous incidents — and Stanley addressed that in his email. He wrote, “More than listening and sincerely apologizing, we are making changes to ensure we have a safe and supportive campus.”

Though it’s hard to believe those changes will actually happen sometime in the near future, the best we can do as students is to keep the university accountable. The way they responded to the Wharton Center incident was somewhat better than previous responses, so let’s build on that. 

It’s important to be proactive — not just reactive — and to provide real solutions, not just empty apologies.

The State News Editorial Board is composed of Editor-in-Chief Madison O’Connor, Managing Editor Mila Murray, Copy Chief Alan Hettinger, Campus Editor Evan Jones, City Editor Haley Sinclair, Sports Editor Chase Michaelson, Photo Editor Annie Barker, Multimedia Editor Tessa Osborne, Social Media and Engagement Editor Wolfgang Ruth, Staff Representative Maddie Monroe and Diversity and Inclusion Representative Chandra Fleming.

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