This week, posters were taped up around campus in the middle of the night, including outside the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. They said simply, “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE.” It was a concerning statement that carries immense baggage. As a campus community, we could ignore the sentiment and leave the issue to be gossiped about amongst divided circles. But that’s an easy path, one void of any lessons. Rather, we believe the poster should be thrusted into community conversation and used as a learning tool.
“IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE,” in this context, was clearly a cry of defense from a person who feels their identity is being minimized. While we can’t be certain of their exact thoughts, we can assume they view the Multicultural Center and campus generally as unwelcoming of white students. They may hold more generalized beliefs about multiculturalism representing an assault on whiteness at large. Multiculturalism is not that; it is not an assault on whiteness.
It is okay to be white, it is okay to be black, it is okay to be you. We cannot stray from the pluralistic ideal — smaller groups with varying beliefs can live as unified members of a wider community. We must not view other groups’ quests to be treated with dignity as an attack on the dignity we already hold. The Multicultural Center is a place for every member of our campus. To the Huskers who frequent the building, people from every race and creed and origin are welcome to call it home. The same goes for every corner of our campus.
In a growingly polarized world, the University of Nebraska can prosper as an exception to the rule. Persons of power from every ideology will seek to divide us, both from outside the state and within. As a collection of individuals united in the cause of learning, we must strive to listen and understand the perspectives of our neighbors, no matter how different we assume them to be.
If the person who posted the messages were to walk into the Multicultural Center or any building and ask, “is it okay to be me,” we’re certain they would be refreshed by the answer. There are questions we all have about sensitive topics that rest on assumptions we hold about others. We can hide from growth and post flyers in the night, or we can work to foster an environment where we can all coexist.
Hate will never win, and misunderstanding will never move us forward.
Hunter Traynor, Association of Students of the University of Nebraska president
Kristopher Scott, Afrikan Peoples Union president
Lisa Ath, Asian Student Union president
Angelica Solomon, University of Nebraska Inter-Tribal Exchange president
Alejandro Rodriguez, Mexican-American Student's Association president