It’s 3:55AM and I’m wide awake.
Yesterday was BU’s Day of Collective Engagement; Racism, Antiracism, Our Realities and Our Roles. I was really looking forward to the day, which was put together quickly in response to the Black Lives Matter uprising as a result of the murder of many Black people across America.
I was proud to be part of an institution that was actually doing something in response, and hopeful that it was the start of some big changes. The first session, A Conversation on the History of Racism, was really great. The professors and historians who spoke were passionate about the topic. One panelist, Saida Grundy was captivating to watch with her energy and expertise. I remember attending one of her classes with the intention of shooting photos for BU (It’s not uncommon for me to simply find a class I think might be interesting to shoot for stock image purposes). Ultimately, the space she taught in was dark and windowless. Not at all conducive to photography. The layout prevented me from being able to shoot from various angles without being a disturbance. But she was so engaging that I eventually just sat and started listening to her lecture! This is not common. I am there to work and generally will simply sneak out when I am done.
So, listening to her again along with the others on the panel was really great. After that, I unfortunately really couldn’t listen in on much since I had to spend the day moving around from discussion room to room shooting screen grabs of the speakers for BU Today coverage. That was pretty disappointing – to miss so much – but I’m hopeful the discussions were recorded and that they will be accessible to view later.
At the end of the day I entered one of twelve debrief sessions, this one moderated by dean of students Kenn Elmore. It was the most important session I could have stumbled on that day. Multiple Black students and one faculty member talked about their experiences of racism on campus. Two even said that they grew up in Boston and never experienced the racism they experience on the BU campus.
It’s devastating news. I cannot be surprised however. I cannot be shocked and ashamed. I can only ask what can be done? A Black student is approached by another who aims a banana at her like a gun, pretends to shoot her and calls her a monkey. Another who was called out in class regularly as the voice of the minority because she was the only Black student in the class.
These students, and one faculty member, bravely spoke up and shared their stories while their voices quivered and some, understandably, openly cried. I cannot help but feel that is the session every member of the BU community, administration especially, needs to watch.
You cannot look away from these stories and do nothing.
Someone in the room mentioned the existence of an Instagram page set up where members of BU faculty, students and staff can anonymously share their experiences. I follow that page now and intend to read everyone. Here is a link to the profile and below are some slides sharing some of the stories.
What can be done and HOW HAS IT NOT BEEN DONE SOONER? I am hopeful that people far better equipped can deal with this issue at BU, but I think residence assistants must be trained to deal with racism int heir dorms, faculty must be held accountable for their mistreatment of students, there must be a center or number a student can call to report abuse and to be heard by someone who will listen. There should be a system in place where students who have been a target of racism will be checked in on after the fact, not just told “Thanks for letting us know!”
I think every student at BU should be required to take a full course about systemic racism, personal racism and implicit bias, and there should be a system in place where student can be reported for their racists acts and should be punished appropriately. It’s not free speech, it’s hate. There should also be a way for students to report instructors, professors, staff, etc. not to mention a resource for faculty who are BIPOC.
I was proud of BU for the Day of Collective Engagement and I’m hopeful that changes will be made. I know a lot of university photographers whose schools were doing absolutely nothing. One friend told me his boss was advising people to “find their Black colleagues and ask them about their experiences” as a solution to all that is going on. I mean, come on. Learning About Your Racism 101. First lesson – Don’t bother your Black friends and colleagues about this. They are tired and traumatized.
I recently finished watching When They See Us on Netflix. It was immediately upsetting and I wanted to watch something else, but I recently watched a Red Table discussion where the footage of George Floyd’s murder was shared. I wanted to look away, fast forward through it, but I realized I cannot. I cannot keep looking away, now that I see. While I do not intend on watching horrid, racist acts until I am so traumatized that I cannot continue to grow and learn about by own racism, I realized in that moment that the fact that I cannot relate to the stories, the fact that these stories make me uncomfortable is the very reason I need to keep learning about them.