ISU: after the bigotry

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Racism is ignorance, and it need not be tolerated anywhere, most certainly not on a college campus.

Every time we think we're finally past this kind of stupidity, it seems to crop up again.

A bigotry forum held Wednesday at Iowa State shows we haven't come as far as we had thought. The forum was held in response to an incident in which a person reportedly making a "white supremacy" comment took away and ripped up a student's sign at a protest during Donald Trump's visit to the Cy-Hawk football game in September.

But according to the comments of several students taking part in the forum, there have been many cases of discrimination and hatred against them long before that protest.

One woman said she had been shoved with a hand in her face, and told "You don't belong here."

A Hispanic student said her life was "hell" during her freshman year, and described how appalled she was when her roommate dressed up as a "Mexican" for Halloween with many hurtful stereotypes.

Another woman spoke of finding racial and sexual slurs scrawled on her residence hall room door.

A male student claimed that "white privilege" is "rampant" on campus.

Others have apparently been told "go home," or called derogatory names, while walking to classes.

In Storm Lake, which has dealt with multicultural issues longer and more dramatically than most communities, we can sympathize with the students who feel they are being treated poorly.

Admitted there are no perfect situations, but Storm Lake schools have worked for inclusion, and it has worked well primarily because the students themselves, and their families, have realized that people are people, regardless. Iowa Central Community College in Storm Lake, a leader in English as a second language and helping to educate people who have come here from strife-torn parts of the world, again succeeds, in large part because students themselves have found the value in one another. Buena Vista University has worked specifically to diversify its midwestern student body with recruiting from groups we once would have thought of as "minority," from here to Japan, and again, it may not be perfect, but it is working to a great degree, because students themselves have found that they are all more alike than they are different.

If any place should lead us toward understanding, it should be a place of education.

Iowa State is, and should be, alarmed at the stories of injustice, and especially the fact that some students feel they are not safe on their own campus.

If students are found to have committed violence, harassment or a hate-related crime, they should be kicked out of school and off the campus permanently, and be criminally charged if appropriate.

You can discuss, debate, protest, speak and write your mind on matters of diversity to heart's content, but when opinion becomes abuse, a message must be sent.

There is an upside, though, to even this strife.

Only at a university where people care, would a forum like this be held, and draw such a big, attentive crowd. Only in a place where people are willing to listen, would people who have been abused feel safe to tell their stories in public. Only in a place that would strive to improve would it be so heavily covered in the student media.

This is a beginning, but an important one. You can't achieve anything until people can talk openly and honestly about an issue.

This discussion was barely underway when news of a tragedy at a community college in Oregon surfaced Thursday. There too, initial reports imply that discrimination - of a different kind - was employed. A gunman allegedly specifically targeted Christian students, asking them to stand, and killing them in their classroom. Our hearts and prayers go out to all who suffered in this horrible tragedy.

This serves to remind us that the incidents at Iowa State are a different kind - a kind that are not final, a kind we have an opportunity to educate on.

A ripped poster is an ugly incident, but students can make more posters. A stupid act by one person probably has done more to make the protesters' cause heard than a thousand signs could do.

This is the beauty that can come from conflict. It can make us all take time to think what we would feel like if we were mistreated, silenced, harassed, called names, or came home to find ugly slurs written on our doors.

This is how Iowa State will improve. It won't be by administrator speeches, or opening more offices of multiculturalism, or hiring more campus police. That's not were understanding comes from.

It will be the students who do it. Because guaranteed, for every abusive racist in a vast student body, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of good people who appreciate diversity and all we can learn from it.

People who are stupid enough to call others abusive names, or cowardly enough to deface someone's door for having different colored skin or a different expression of their sexuality, are not convincing anyone.

All they are doing is pointing out their own ignorance.

For those who have suffered discrimination, be strong. The one real minority in our society today, the endangered species, is racists. And they are just as pitiful as they sound.

Canceling them out is as easy as making sure you say "hi" or smile when you pass someone, or sit next to them, or stand in line near them to get lunch, and don't worry what their ethnic background may be, or whether or not they are straight or gay.

Why can't [people] see that racism is so much more than Confederate flags and white hoods?" asked one of the students speaking at the forum.

How you treat people is lesson one. And for those who abuse, an education will be wasted on them.