“80 people like this”
With about 23,000 students on the University of Toledo’s campus, this phrase shouldn’t bother me. What does 80 students really amount to? As a former student and English instructor, I wonder how many of these students I walked past, sat next to, or even taught.
There are many student organizations on UT’s campus that range from religious to hobbies/activities. But of course, there are multicultural groups like the Black Student Union, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, the Indian Student Cultural Organization, and the Latino Student Union. And now, 80 white students want to add the White Student Union to the list.
There are a couple of ways to react to their unofficial group. Shake your head and continue through your Facebook news feed or, in my case, furrow your brow and ask yourself, “Oh really?” If you’re anything like me, you’ll sit on this information and let it stew for a minute. Then you’ll want to scroll through their feed and scoff at all posted articles. I did this until I felt enraged.
At best, this is a group of petulant children who haven’t fully understood the purpose of college education. These are children who have arrived on a campus, packed away in a precious cargo containers filled with their parents’ ideology. Higher Education has the gnarly job of breaking open that carefully packed container and exposing children to new ideas, and dare I say, new people. It’s a process that can be rough, especially if you’re convinced that the world is supposed to mirror your own experiences and feelings. But luckily, students get at least four years to grapple with those feelings and near the end of their collegiate experience, they should hopefully have some kind of “mind expansion.”
At the very worst, this is a group of racists who are hell bent on NOT learning anything in college. The average student, of this group, will leave the university having no eye-opening experiences. Instead, they will have only found 79 like-minded peers who will continue feeding them the same monochromatic ideas. These students are vehemently opposed to understanding history as well. They seem at peace with the knowledge that almost all colleges are Predominantly White Institutions (PWI’s) and that the idea of “college” is an inherently “white” reality that minorities have struggled to be apart of for hundreds of years.
The struggle is still real. I have had black University of Toledo students come to my office hours despondent about the loneliness they have felt being at a PWI. Their main complaints are that it’s difficult to find a place to belong. In their classrooms, they feel as though they are not heard by professors. Their cultural expression usually falls on deaf ears. Even when black students feel like they’ve gotten a foothold in the white academic culture, they see news stories about “Hurt-Feelings-Abigail-Fisher” who claims that she wasn’t accepted into Texas A&M because of Affirmative Action. “There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT [University of Texas], and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin,” Fisher says. She’s got hurt feelings, ya’ll.
What’s more interesting about Fisher’s lack of understanding and awareness, is that she felt it was her destiny to get accepted into the school. Most of her family had gone there so it was OWED to her. It was her birthright. Grades and activities aside, the expectation of having something just because the rest of your white family has had it, is the definitely of white privilege. It’s a kind of white privilege that will follow Fisher well after she leaves college. It’s such a handy tool, she’ll most likely get her first job with it. She sounds like she hasn’t broken out of her cargo container either.
One last thing about the University of Toledo’s unofficial White Student Union is this profile picture they originally posted:
As if the School of Athens painting wasn’t enough. Claiming classic Greek culture as the epitome of “whiteness” is silly and stinks of Neo-Nazi rhetoric. And to pinpoint one section of the world as “sacred ground” feels even more laughable. While you’re at it, why don’t you add more green swatches to rest of the world to represent European Colonization. Because that’s definitely a thing. And according to American history, you can forget about Ireland and Italy being considered sacred ground or “white.” Always remember images like these:
In a time where Trump rhetoric weighs heavy on us, we have to do our best not to give in the “default” setting of white is right. 80 students doesn’t seem like enough to make us fearful, but with the way race division is shaping politics in this country, I fear that young people are growing cold to different experiences and opinions. This could be 80 students too many for any thoughtful dialogue.