Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, December 3, 2019
For the past two weeks, saying that it happened hasn’t been enough. For some people involved in the dialogue surrounding recent protests, my personal experience is no justification for any proposed structural change at Notre Dame. In airing out the details of what happened leading to the End Hate at ND movement, I hope our ears and eyes are receptive to the loud and clear message this incident lends to us: There is indeed work to be done.
In the late hours of Nov. 15, I went to a party on the first floor of Stanford Hall. In regular Notre Dame party fashion, my friends and I were the only people of color in attendance. Not dissimilar from my experience at other residence hall occasions, I was being stared at and ignored when trying to make conversation with those around me. Despite my suspicion that we were not particularly welcome in the environment, my friends and I decided to stay and enjoy the music in our own little corner. As we were leaving I forgot to shut the door behind me. When we were barely down the hallway, there were three young men who plummeted out of the room, yelling at me for not closing the door and saying the party would get shut down if an RA or rector were to walk by.
Being a dark-skinned black woman who grew up in a racially-tense, rural east Texas, I knew what they were when I laid eyes on them. Not by the words they said to us, initially, but by the intent on their faces and in their voices.
Given the blatant disrespect in how they approached us, one of my friends went back and forth with them for a moment. Before the situation escalated, my friends walked away, and I decided to stay back to confront this boy’s attitude. But what came out of his mouth next stopped me in my tracks. He stared at me as to make sure I heard him: “You better walk away, you f**king n****rs.”
I walked away.
My friends had crossed the lobby to go to Keenan, so we could stop by to see someone before leaving. We were at the exit facing St. Edward’s Hall, when we saw a young woman crying over her boyfriend. My friend and I went over to console her, and the conversation among us quickly became about feminism. Moments later a group of men came down the stairs. Anyone who knows me understands how much I don’t mind engaging in hard conversations with strangers, so I asked them: “What are you doing for women’s liberation?” At first, the conversations we started having were very productive. Then, as more traffic came down the stairs it became an even bigger scene with more men joining our conversation. That’s where things got out of hand. We started talking about intersections of race, gender and sexuality. I mentioned that I am a lesbian. A man yelled out, “So she’s a d**e?” I responded, “Who said that?” This man and his friend tucked their tails and ran down the stairs.
What happened after is where the hall staff stepped in. I sat on the first floor of Keenan and protested to not leave until parietals were over. That was, until my arm was grabbed and I was forcibly removed from Keenan upon Campus Security’s arrival. My intention was not to disrespect Keenan residents as a whole, I was simply voicing my suffering and the suffering of other black and queer students who are subject to these slurs far too often.
These two separate instances in two separate residence halls serve as a divine awakening for the work that needs to be done by several entities across campus. The day after, there was another reported incident in Keenan Hall where guests wrote the N-word on multiple students’ whiteboards. And another incident in which men mockingly screamed homophobic slurs at each other from across the hall. For no investigation or call to action to be made, especially in the wake of events that have brought attention to all of this, is disappointing to say the least. These situations should not be handled as childish name-calling incidents. These words carry weight. Being called a “n****r” is a threat. Not one of us should be at peace knowing that people who harbor such hateful feelings toward our most vulnerable are lurking our halls every day.
There were multiple people present when each of these events occurred. When the response of bystanders is to stare shockingly, laugh or take video instead of looking to hold their neighbors accountable, we should all question what we consider our standard of community to be. Maybe if I weren’t a woman, maybe if I weren’t black, maybe if I weren’t queer, maybe if I weren’t so “different” from the men around me, someone, out of everyone who was there to witness both incidents, would have had called these people out when they saw it. Complicity is just as violent as any word or action.
To all enumerated officials at the University,
It is your responsibility to take action against the structures, propagated by University policy and normalities, that enforce gendered and racialized codes empowering and encouraging students to behave this way. At a university where the vast majority of students are white and Catholic, there is 10 times as much work to be done to combat an environment of homogeneity and echo-ed thought. Shipping wealthy white teens around the globe for eight weeks to “examine poverty” has not been cutting it. If we want to see cultural shifts, we must first implement structural shifts that build cultural competency by way of new dorm structures and mandates, new approaches to diversity in academia and continued solidarity with local communities whom Notre Dame’s existence has directly affected. You already have the demands. Let us begin this work toward justice now.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.