An open letter on why representation matters

By Fleener Cophy

Dear white professors,

FSW has students from various backgrounds, ethnicities, and races. Yet, you, the professors, remain majority white.

Although my college experiences have proven way more enjoyable than high school, there are still unfortunate experiences as immutable as the color of my skin.

One of the most permanent experiences that have ruined my views on the field of “Academia” is the education of injustices that, ironically, black people must face.

Imagine entering a classroom as a black person and hearing your white professor tell you what is or isn’t racism. While in my People, Power, and Politics class, the topic of cultural appropriation came up.

When discussing the appropriation of black culture, you, as a white person, do not get to decide what is or isn’t appropriation. There are plenty of black intellectuals that you can refer to when discussing these issues. These issues are not some abstract lessons; real people are impacted every day by racism, sexism, and all -isms.

The topic of racism in academia is often taught in an individualistic manner restating the textbook definition. You often characterize it as simply prejudice with no real connection to its systemic quality.

Thus, bringing me to the ever so problematic issue of language and racially insensitive words.

For starters, the N-word is a highly sensitive one that must be treated as such. Here’s how you shouldn’t use it: in discussion with a black student, repeatedly, and without warning.

Now, my English professor mastered the use of the N-word. Before starting, she clarified the reasoning of educational integrity and expressed the seriousness of saying such a word out of context.

I can’t give the same glowing review to other professors.

On another note, do not call your black student a “subject,” even if it is just a joke. In an anthropology lesson! A field that historically devalues black narratives, making them nothing more than subjects!

Although these seem like just words, they bring images of an era masterfully expressed in Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” which accurately expressed what happens historically when black people are dehumanized.

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

This last point is one that has caused significant mental difficulties for me as a student. Professors have tremendous power in the classroom, as authority figures. They can either encourage students or tear them down. It is tough to face judgment and bias from peers, but terrifying from professors.

My value as a human being shouldn’t end the moment I slip up. Black students shouldn’t have to be exceptionally smart to gain encouragement or help. Unfortunately, we are not granted this privilege due to the pervasive system of white supremacy.

All in all, this opinion piece isn’t about trashing white professors who fail to try and step out of their whiteness. It takes real work to understand your own racist thoughts, views, ideas, etc. White professors will need to:

•Go through racial training, just like you do for LGBTQ awareness

•Step outside of your whiteness; not everything has to center you

•Call out white supremacists and supremacy

•Understand that you’re likely to be a racist, and it doesn’t make you a bad person

•Learn how to acknowledge your racism and work on changing it

Or FSW could just hire more black professors.

Sincerely,

This angry black student!

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