Last Saturday, the Scripps student body was shocked to receive an email about a blatant act of racism perpetrated against a Mexican-American student. The student woke up that morning to discover someone had written “#trump2016” on the whiteboard affixed to her door. Given Trump’s outrageously anti-Mexican sentiments, this goes far beyond any kind of sick joke: it is an act of violence.
“Regardless of your political party,” SAS President Minjoo Kim writes in the email, “this intentional violence committed directly to a student of color proves to be another testament that racism continues to be an undeniable problem and alarming threat on our campuses”. Members of Cafe con Leche, Scripps’ Latinx club, graciously shared their thoughts with us on the incident.
Clarisse Salazar, a second year, said:
“One of the first thoughts I had was the fact that there’s gonna be all the people who aren’t going to understand that this was a racist act and aren’t gonna understand that this was an attack on a student. It was personal, it wasn’t random, and like people are free to believe in whatever candidate they want but victimizing and pinpointing certain students, that’s when it’s not okay and when it’s hurtful to that student and our community. I think about the people who don’t think that this was racist. There are people who don’t understand the chalkboard at Emory or this incident here. They don’t understand why it’s offensive and I can try to explain it to them but they just don’t get it. This is targeting my community and other students within my community. I’m really proud of Minjoo for having written the email to the student body and I really appreciate that, but I’m surprised that people were upset that the email was sent out and that Dean Johnson had to step in and validate the fact that this is offensive, that this is an issue. I think that one of the problems with that is that yes, we all take Core 1, and yes we all learn about this kind of violence, but it is so easy for privileged students to just go through Core and not really listen to what people are telling them and to not learn about what they especially should be learning. I think one thing that should happen is taking serious evaluation of the Core program and trying to think of ways in which those privileged students must engage with this violence and these systems, which I understand is extremely difficult and I don’t have an answer of how to fix this problem but I think a lot of people in administration will say, ‘Oh these students are educated, they took Core 1 and they know that wouldn’t happen here,’ but clearly what we are doing is not working and is not creating a safe space for marginalized students here. So for now the only thing I can rely on is on the communities we have set up here, especially Cafe Con Leche because they are the people I know I can rant to, who I know support me and will have my back when no one else understands why I think this is so offensive and racist.”
Just as Salazar described, many students did not understand that this was an act of violence and racism. After Kim sent out the email, there was a lot of backlash against her by students both in email and social media because they believed that it was an overreaction to a joke. However, the student who had the statement written on her whiteboard is reportedly an RA; because the RA’s tend to have information about themselves and their views posted outside their doors, it does not make sense to classify this as a random prank. The student was deliberately targeted; the attackers clearly knew who she was, or at least what she stood for. They purposely wrote on her billboard knowing both her identity and the racist things Trump has championed in his campaign. Having certain political views is one thing, but using them to deliberately attack and threaten a person is crossing the line.
Nancy Vigil, a first year said:
“I was really surprised to learn that so many Scripps students thought negatively of the incident and sent so many negative comments to Minjoo because Scripps advocates its Core which all first years are supposed to take. And, the lessons that are taught in Core clearly teach us about violence and how violence isn’t necessarily the type we always think of, that it can be more subtle. To think that Scripps students here don’t understand that and actively defend racist actions that are subtle makes me feel like there needs to be restructuring of our school. Starting with Core would be a good way in that we need to help students acknowledge the privilege that they have and to learn that not everyone experiences the world the way they do.”
In her private Q&A with a group of Scripps students, Roxane Gay discussed the incident and stated that if she was a Latinx student at this institution right now, she would not feel safe. She also described how people from marginalized groups are already so worn down from the comments and injustices they have faced all their lives; because their skins have already been thinned by societal oppression and power structures, incidents like this can serve as breaking points. A college should be a safe space for students. A safe space doesn’t mean that they should be coddled and protected from the world, but rather that they can simply be able to be respected. A safe space should provide an environment where students can speak up and voice their thoughts without the fear of being invalidated solely because of their identities. Another Scripps student, who wishes to stay anonymous, described her anger about the racist incident and how it has made her feel uncomfortable even in her own dorm, which is especially supposed to be a safe space.
“I was angry when I found out about it because it happened in my own dorm, so it’s a personal space... that is my temporary home. Because I personally know the student it’s very disheartening to hear, especially at an institution where we do talk about different issues, especially about racial issues, so for someone to think that this is okay to do... I was especially upset at the students who said that it was an overreaction because they don’t have an accurate way to measure the emotions of marginalized communities because I felt that the reaction was the best reaction she could give. She reported it, she documented it, and now the school is handling it. I’m really impressed with the way Scripps is handling it. I mean, obviously it did get away from them publicity-wise, but I’m really proud of the administration for sending out multiple emails, and especially the dean coming forth and saying that this is not an overreaction, that they are going to take this seriously and this is not a joke to this administration.”
This incident is analogous to the recent events at Emory University, where students of color were outraged by “Accept the inevitable: Trump 2016” chalk messages found around campus. Protests erupted, calling upon administration to denounce this act. More conservative students rallied for free speech and Emory President James Wagner chalked “Emory stands for free expression” in response to the protests. Despite this ongoing disagreement as to whether such an act is violence or simply the utilization of free speech, the incident at Scripps is an entirely separate issue. A Mexican student was specifically targeted, making this indisputably an act of racism.
The reported negative responses to Minjoo’s email by Scripps students are disheartening, especially because as a community, it is essential that we stand together to combat injustice. However, the current Core 1 curriculum needs revision so that it can teach students about privilege and allow the voices of people of color to be heard. Currently, not enough Scripps students are understanding violence and privilege in a real-life perspective. As Salazar and Vigil express, Core I explains different forms of violence: just because this student was not physically attacked does not mean it was not an act of racist violence. Until there is both more understanding and equality within our community, sufficient changes cannot occur.