By Lala Hilizah
I have decided to share a recent incident with racism on this campus. My aim is to shed light on the intersections between sexual assault in the wake of the Charlie Rose scandal and racial discrimination. I also want Sewanee’s student body to get a glimpse of the emotional aftermath following a disturbing encounter with racism in order to humanize my experience.
It is important to note that I am not speaking on the behalf of all people of color at Sewanee, but through an empirical lense.
It is no surprise that Sewanee is a predominantly white institution with a very large Greek culture. There has been debate about whether or not this Greek culture perpetuates divisions based on race and gender, but what interests me the most is Sewanee’s party culture. No, I am not talking about the drinking culture, but more so of the pop culture, specifically in music choice.
In an institution with a major problem of self-segregation, it seems as if the only real interaction many white students have with diverse people is through rap music. This is problematic in many ways, because it fabricates a distorted view of students of different racial backgrounds. In fact, it strips us of our humanity, essentially dehumanizing us, so that we are automatically associated with negative stereotypes instead of individuals.
Time takes a harrowing shift in the event of near-traumatic encounter. To say the least, hearing the word “nigger” come out of a white male’s mouth is the most surreal experience I have ever undergone. Soon, I was face to face with white privilege in its perceptible form.
Entitlement, a mere concept, morphs into the body of a white, seemingly well-to-do, male. And soon, time ceases to exist. The fact that I am a black individual transcends gender, ethnicity, and class, making any encounter with racism is a commonality amongst all past, present, and future black individuals.
I was dehumanized at a frat party because the offender failed to perceive me as a person with a life story. His view of me was so in vain that I was simply reduced to a black body. He did not consider the fact that I was born in Sudan, an east-African country. And, like many east-African citizens, my ancestors did not endure 200+ years of slavery in America. However, his words proved to me that I was just another black body in his eyes.
My perception of white people began to shift ever so slightly once I saw them exercise their sense of entitlement. I became scared shitless because if a white person has the audacity to say that word, they have the power to do anything. The word “nigger” was used to oppress and lynch countless African-American men and women and it still has the power to continue to do so.
My case is being dealt with by the perpetrator’s fraternity and the Dean of Student Conduct, but I am starting to understand why so many people of color do not report incidents of racial discrimination.
Verbal abuse does not fit under the legal definition of “harassment,” so nothing can be done from a legal standpoint. I have been given little transparency throughout the process of deciding his future participation in Greek Life. And, although his words were a direct violation of EQB(ullshit) guide, all the University can do is have the perpetrator write the victim a letter of apology.
I realize that the University of the South was built for wealthy, white men in 1857, and that still holds true in 2018. Sewanee hasn’t accommodated for people like me, who are susceptible to racism and/or sexual abuse at any given point in time.
Nonetheless, it is time that we bring our encounters with prejudice and assault to light so that the Sewanee community can understand the magnitude of these problems in a seemingly perfect campus.
I will dedicate the rest of my time here to demand justice for all victims of persecution, in whatever form that may be. But I am leaving it up to you, white people of Sewanee, to combat this problem of racism that is still ubiquitous on our campus.