A final assignment about controversial events that was written for the Advanced Journalism class. Read the full piece.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
Under the veneer of cordiality lies a threat. Not a dangerous threat – you can’t find weapons here – but a threat just as damaging as physical harm: a sideways glance, a momentary stare, a question of belonging, or a cold shoulder.
The threat comes every day. The first day of class, a relatively stress-free day for most, turns into a war zone, with the best way to avoid being noticed is to act like a target in camouflage and head straight to the back of the room. A select few individuals must show their Access cards when entering a party; in crowded house parties they can be easily picked out of a mass due to their thick, curly hair. They are also the ones who go to the grocery store looking for a band-aid, soon coming to a halt realizing there is no color that matches their skin. At first glance, Santa Clara welcomes these students, adopting them into the Bronco culture without a question. But when you dig deeper, there is much that is still unseen or unsaid; white privilege exists.
During winter quarter at Santa Clara, sophomore student Alex Golding, an openly gay student on campus, was kicked out of an off-campus party. The boys of the party yelled homophobic comments at him as he was forced to leave their house. Alex relays his story one afternoon in Benson Memorial Hall, wearing a tight-knit crew-neck sweater that brings out the olive green color of his eyes. While telling the story calmly and confidently, underneath his cheery, wide-eyed boy façade, it is easy to see that this event caught him off guard, and shook up some of his beliefs.
Alex said that before recently coming out, Santa Clara was a very welcoming place. “I do still feel welcomed,” Alex said, post-event, “but it’s because of the tremendous support I have received since.” For other students unlike Alex who has a horde of supporters in administration, student-led groups, and friends, it is not as easy to say that all suppressed individuals would respond like him.
Feeling separated and alone is an all too familiar experience for Broncos who are “different.” That is, those who do not represent the accepted norm. Walking into class is a daily jolt back into reality of life at Santa Clara. They are the ones who are labeled as “diverse;” a word that is feared by many still. With a campus composed of 49 percent Caucasian students out of 5,435 undergraduates, the other 51 percent is split between the remaining ethnic categories. African Americans make up less than one percent of the total student population. Any other color, or anyone “different,” strongly stands out. Santa Clara has twice the percentage of whites than San Jose State, (SJSU is 25 percent white with 33,000 students) even though the two schools are only 3.7 miles apart. When comparing the two campuses, curiosity begins to grow when coming to understand how hate crimes and bias acts can occur at two very ethnically differing universities.
San Jose State University is a unique subculture of the south Bay Area. College culture intersects with a growing urban life, bringing many of the urban pitfalls that most small cities face. The corner of the campus and the real world meet: downtown San Jose boasts luxurious hotels and upscale restaurants, meanwhile, homeless wander the streets and even make their way onto campus. However, all this seems to slip away when stepping onto San Jose’s campus. The sweet chirping of birds, aroma of honeysuckle in the air, and hum of students on their way to their daily activities drown out the street traffic. The quad is the center for student life, featuring a tall statue in the middle, an exemplary figure of the SJSU Mission to blend the old and the new, a mix of the traditional and the innovative in all aspects of life.
Standing 23 feet tall, this statue is a creation of the Olympic podium where two San Jose State University student-athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos made a protest at the 1968 summer games in Mexico City. On the medal stand, as the Star Spangled Banner played, both athletes bowed their heads and raised their fists in a defiant black power salute, intending to place the world spotlight on human rights, particularly injustice and inequality for African Americans. But that wasn’t everyone’s first reaction to the political act. The stadium audience booed the two champions, and ceremony etiquette mavens around the world were aghast. The two sprinters were expelled from the Games and received numerous death threats. Over time, their disruption of the status quo evolved to be viewed in a different light. Almost four decades later, in 2005, San Jose State University unveiled their heroic scale tribute. This became the meeting place for the Black Rally that took place after the hate crime on San Jose’s campus this year.
In late fall of 2013, Donald Williams, Jr., an African American student at San Jose State University, was bullied, abused, and racially harassed by his four white suite mates in their dormitory. After several months of torment, the administration finally caught wind of the events and stepped in to intervene. Quickly, questions arose as to how this event could occur on such a “diverse” campus, where differences are welcomed and community is valued. As an SJSU freshman, this student was meant to feel safe, protected, and comfortable in his new home, when instead he was made to be violated, leaving him without a sense of home at all.
While hate crimes of this degree have not occurred at Santa Clara, it is surely not outside the realm of possibilities that it could happen. What goes on behind closed doors and within house party walls is not always reported, and therein lies another problem.
In 2009, 6,604 total reported hate crimes occurred in the United States, and 396 of these racially motivated bias hate crimes occurred on college campuses. While there were a total 754 events that occurred on college campuses that year, this number just goes to show that 50% were racially motivated. (FBI) Not only were there over 6,000 incidents that occurred that year, those were the only cases that had been reported. With the example like at San Jose State, which occurred for more than three months until it got reported, there are many other cases that never even get brought to light.
According to Lester Deanes, the Dean of Student life at Santa Clara, there still exists a mentality that students can just deal with these issues on their own. But some of them are too major to ignore, yet students repeatedly turn their heads when they witness something they know is wrong. SF Gate reported on the San Jose incident, stating, “Many also stood by and didn’t help.”
“We have a barrier between us as professors and students,” says Katherine Heintz, as she comments on the relationship between trust in teachers and students. As a Communication Professor, the classroom is a space for students to bring concerns to class and discuss with peers and professors. Yet she knows that lot of stuff happens that professors still don’t really know about. “The students don’t know they can come to faculty,” she says. “I find it horrifying that those boys did that and thought it was okay, but it was equally horrifying that it happened for so long and no one stopped it. I think it’s challenging for students in the minority in one way or another to find someone who they feel comfortable going to. As a white woman, I don’t know if this young man would have reached out to me.”
Alex knows from personal experience that homophobia still exists, especially at a white male-dominated school like Santa Clara. Dominique Troy, a senior Santa Clara student, is not surprised that at a school run by white Jesuit males would feature a majority of students who are also white, and it would only make sense that the ideas and values that are reinforced through the higher ups at the university trickle down and exist within the student body as well. Their authority reinforces the systems that already exist outside the microcosm of a university that puts white people above other ethnicities. Dominique is Italian-American, but looking at her you would never know. Her outward appearance is black.
Charlotta Kratz, a Communication professor, said boys like Alex are scared. Sitting at her desk one Thursday afternoon after teaching class all morning, Charlotta fondly glances at a framed photograph on her desk. It is one of the sole photos garnishing her desk, a picture of five of her previous students, a group of bright, colorful, smiling men and women, who have their arms around each other’s shoulders. She tells me that two of the men in the photo were threatened because of their sexuality while attending Santa Clara years back. With the recent news of Alex’s experience, Charlotta understands that people are scared of physical violence from male students. “I think that’s reasonable because of homophobia, alcohol, and big, white, scary guys,” she says. “Boys like Alex, they felt threatened, and they had reason to.”
Alex has not attended an off-campus party since the incident. “I will say that I’m not going to anymore Pike parties,” he says with a small laugh.
Not too long after Alex was thrown out of the party, another student was thrown out of a different Greek-affiliated fraternity house for his sexual orientation. However, this student remains anonymous and is not ready to speak out like Alex has. “Before this event,” says Alex, “I wouldn’t have considered myself active in trying to support LGBT values, but I’m using this as motivation and inspiration to speak out more.”
Alex found a silver lining after the incident – a kick start to what he believes to be a change movement not just at Santa Clara, but one that could happen anywhere. Now that these offenses are occurring, it has prompted a start in conversation, one that people are taking notice of. But for students unlike Alex who still feel hesitant to voice their fears, there lingers a question of whether or not these students could face real dangers.
Charlotta still has some doubts that change is occurring. “These events show that it doesn’t automatically get any better with time,” she says. “I don’t think the university is doing anything different than it has in the past other than reacting, to be honest.” She has noticed that in her classroom students still remain deaf to the struggles of others. “White people are fighting everything they hear in the classroom; they don’t want to hear any of it.” Katherine Heintz, believes it is difficult to discuss racial issues in the classroom because of the ethnic breakdown. “When I have only one African American student in my class, these students don’t want to be a representative for a whole group,” says Katherine. “They don’t want to say, ‘Here’s our experience,’ instead of, ‘Here’s my experience.’” Like Charlotta, Katherine knows it’s difficult to open up the conversation when there isn’t a direct problem; people don’t want to have a conversation celebrating everyone’s differences.
These conversations are beginning to occur, however. In a room full of 40 strange faces, eight white students stand up, signaling their agreement to the statement: “I can arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.” For those who did not rise, they look around the room at each other, nodding their heads in agreement that they too have felt alone.
During one of the weekly Difficult Dialogues, sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Learning titled “Being White at SCU,” students had the opportunity to discuss personal experiences in a safe space. While only 20 percent of those who attended were white, the discussion was important because it got white students to talk about the fact that they’re white and what that means. Dominique also attended the discussion, noting that it was a good starting point for what should become a longer and larger conversation. “White people are given the privilege of being oblivious to anything outside of the dominant culture forms,” says Dominique. “Simultaneously, other groups are made to be unconfident, uncomfortable, and alienated.” Not everyone is given a daily challenge to have conversations like ones provided by the OML. “Unfortunately, students who are white don’t think issues of race are relevant to them,” Dominique adds. “They don’t see how growing up in a society that reinforces those values has an impact on others.”
Lotta would agree. From a decade of experience in the classroom and relationships to students, she has found that whiteness is a protection at Santa Clara. That protection means being protected from having to feel, notice, and pay attention to anyone different.
Peggy McIntosh, a white woman and Associate Director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women claims that white privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets which she can count on cashing in each day, but about which she was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.
“White privilege is manifested at SCU in small, sometimes unnoticeable things,” notes Dominique. “White privilege can be the idea that white students have cars, or the idea of Light Side versus Dark Side off-campus housing.” Since most of the are surrounding the SCU campus is made up of smaller houses populated by students, the sides are student-labeled Light and Dark side, which effectively connotes them with skin color. “Because dark side is more frequently populated with students of color and is less expensive, even the simple things that immediately separates students socially reinforce white privilege.”
Dominique sits outside on the mounds outside of O’Connor Hall on a bright afternoon. She speaks about white privilege from personal experience. “When I was a sophomore I was kicked out of a party because I was black.” Dominique recalls. “The host didn’t think that I went to the university so I was asked to leave.” It’s difficult having to tell your peers why you were asked to leave a party. Dominique explains that it’s complicated to express a complete feeling of sheer unwanted-ness to those who are not students of color because from a party-hosts perspective they just think they’re “protecting” their house. But the fact that this is the dominating thought that comes to mind is shocking for students like Dominique, who are just another SCU student trying to have fun with friends. “The fact that this is the thought that comes to mind when encountering students of color is shocking and inaccurate and represents the fact that that idea that people of color are criminals or are going to steal your shit,” says Dominique. “That exists here at SCU.”
“We can learn to love all of our brothers and sisters on an individual level but if you look at the ethnic breakdown of our campus, there are still some communities that are sorely underrepresented just comparing it to the state of California,” said Jade Agua, head of the Office of Multicultural Learning. It’s easy for white students to go about their day-to-day life without encountering a problem or conflict, but for others, that’s not always the case. Whites are in the majority, and can survive without acknowledging problems. This is normal. “If you’re white you may not realize or have to worry about small microaggressions or whatever it is that pertains to race,” says Dominique.
One of Santa Clara’s highest values is a strong sense of community. But for those who may not have found the college community they always imagined, they are left with sense of hopelessness. Maybe the solution lies in the challenge of the idea of community. Because for those who never have the opportunity to be challenged or think differently, then things can just remain status quo.
As a professor, Katherine would like to see some changes. “Let everyone speak,” she says. “Professors can make these environments more comfortable and speak in smaller groups to share experiences. You then become one out of three instead one out of twenty.” People need to be talking about how are we similar and how are we different. These values of difference, fairness, equality should come up in every class, because they pertain to every individual in a room.
A two-hour conversation cannot begin to change 18 previous years of ideas and values instilled in how someone is raised. “You can’t expect that all of a sudden someone’s going to have an epiphany moment,” says Dominique. It takes more than just one conversation, and it probably takes more than 11 weeks.
“At some point you can teach people about the climate on campus and give them exposure and education but even in taking all the necessary precautions, things still happen,” said Aldo Billingslea, the Provost for Diversity and Inclusion. “There are feelings and persons involved and harmed.” In order for everyone to be considered a valued member of the community, the harsh reality is that trust needs to be rebuilt and the lion’s share of the responsibility needs to placed on one entity more than another. For Aldo, the solution is simply stated, but not so simply re-enacted. It is on this majority at Santa Clara, white individuals, who have a responsibility to prove that “they know better.”
Despite all the bias and between every hateful comment, Lotta puts aside her doubts and re-instills some faith at this place where she comes to work every day. “Sometimes you need to be pushed to change, sometimes you need to put more pressure on people,” says Lotta. “Everybody can change.”