Opinion Sig 2020

Dear Chancellor’s Office and UNL administration,

The Black Student Union is deeply disappointed by the university’s response to racism on campus and the lack of action that has been taken since the release of statements over the summer. These statements were released with the intent to actively combat racial discrimination, discuss racial equity and support the Black students that attend this university. However, good intentions without action is not enough.

On Aug. 27, members of [Alpha Gamma Rho] fraternity were seen on camera (LJS article) stealing Black Lives Matter signs from a UNL faculty member’s yard and neighboring houses. This is an explicit act of racism, and failure to see it as such is an attempt to protect racist students. We understand that those involved went through the proper due process in the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards. That does not absolve university leaders for not outright condemning this action. We all saw that the university can make a public statement about Code of Conduct violations when several Greek houses were temporarily suspended for COVID-19 violations. The real question is why the university decided that these acts of hatred were not important enough to be talked about. This incident was and is a threat to the safety of Black lives. BSU will not see this as “proper” due process until UNL publicly condemns these actions as racist and takes concrete steps to prevent racist incidents like this from happening again. This university has been able to hide behind its historical pattern of inadequate disciplinary action of students participating in violent racist behavior since its establishment. We demand that steps be taken to change this for the safety and security of Black students and POCs that will come and go on this campus. Higher education is meant to produce and shape active citizens; people who will become our teachers, law enforcement, doctors and lawyers. These are all professions in which racial bias is rampant. Allowing unchecked racist violence is the antithesis of inclusive excellence and diversity and inclusion that the university claims to stand on. Silence from your office is representative of complacency in the devaluation of the safety, wellbeing and existence of Black students both on this campus and beyond.

The university has a precedent of protecting racist students, one that BSU condemned in our earlier statement released this summer. To continue this precedent yet put out statements of solidarity with the Black community is incredibly insulting.

Our frustration is not singular. This bias incident event, although very public, is only part of the many issues that UNL has with keeping the promises made to Black students this summer. First, regarding the making of the newly formed journey leadership team; there has been no transparency with what this group is doing in terms of addressing and combating racial bias on campus. As Black students, it is in our right to know what is being done and how it is being done. Furthermore, the COVID-19 Task Force, the group that makes the decisions regarding a pandemic that disproportionately affects the Black community, lacks any members of color or any representative from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. This lack of regard for representation and transparency among these groups proves that the summer efforts were not prioritized into the fall semester.

There are several issues that are not properly handled by university officials. First, we demand an annual published bias report for transparency on these types of incidents. The UNL community deserves to know when members of the Husker community are participating in vile behavior such as this bias incident. Transparency is the least that administration can do. Second, because there is an obvious lack of diversity and inclusion training and exposure within Greek life, there should be mandatory bias training in the Interfraternity Council and the National Pan-Hellenic Council for recruitment and general members.

The events of summer 2020 brought to light for the broader population the many issues that have affected the Black community. We were hopeful that changes were going to be made, and action items were going to be produced out of genuine interest in combating racial discrimination on campus. Unfortunately, however, it seems that this motivation was short lived and performative. As the Black student body, it is hard not to not feel as if we are being tokenized and used as a smokescreen to cover up real issues. Solidarity statements are not enough. Cheap change will never be enough.

As students, our goal should be to graduate, not do your jobs. Since the events around racial discrimination and violence this summer, POC students have been no less than expected to provide overwhelming amounts of uncompensated emotional labor to administration. We are pulled out of class, away from our studies, friends, family, and into meetings that have little promise of progress. Even worse, this emotional labor we carry only seems to earn us decorative spots on pamphlets instead of a seat at the table. It is shameful that students must always push for changes versus the university doing what is only right.

We want to believe that UNL is committed to making its campus safe, equitable and accessible for students, faculty and staff of all races, genders and creeds. We know that this does not come easy. It is impossible to maintain the status quo and be an ally. Please understand that this letter is not intended to needlessly attack administration, but to simply “hold our university leadership team at the Chancellor’s Cabinet and Expanded Deans Council level accountable for developing anti-racist and inclusive excellence strategies” as encouraged in a July 7, 2020, statement. We hope to hear from your office soon. If not, we will continue forward on our path to support our fellow students to our best ability, and you may continue on yours.

Sincerely,

The Black Student Union, UNL