Dear Chancellor Gerlach and ECU Head Staff,
As a current graduate student in ECU’s English program with a focus on multicultural and transnational literatures, I have spent the past year and a half studying the multicultural history of our nation through its literature, including Japanese internment, women’s oppression in the Caribbean, and slavery and its immense repercussions for both the black and white communities. In fact, just this year I presented at NC State’s English Graduate Conference on African American subcultures in literature. Due to my immersive studies, I am now well-read on, and have a heightened understanding of, the situation of the multicultural community in the United States.
I have received your July 19 message to the ECU community and would like to respond as a student honored and proud to be a part of my graduate school, and simultaneously deeply concerned about our positioning regarding the July 17 political rally.
There comes a point when, under claims of “free speech,” an individual, a group, or an entire institution fails to acknowledge and reject hate and its rhetoric.
There comes a time when, under claims of “purposeful citizenship,” those same fail to reject the moral shortcomings and ethical deficiencies of one in a leadership position requiring higher morality and admirable ethics.
And there comes a time when, under the claim of respect and appreciation for “the diversity of our people, ideas, and opinions,” we provide space for, and aid and add momentum to, ideas and speech akin to those of the white supremacists of the civil rights movement, when free and equal African Americans were lashed out at, told to “go back” to their neighborhoods, their schools, and their separateness.
We provide the space and the opportunity, and therefore, the momentum of a movement uncomfortably related to those first European Americans who believed in, and promoted the idea in word and deed, that this America was theirs, and that black Americans were only occupying space to serve the needs of the white man and woman. When that fulfilling of their needs ceased and the black men and women began to have their own words and deeds, they were demanded to “go back,” or be squashed. Once upon a time in the south we wanted to silence nonwhites, and we did. In contemporary America, some want to do just the same, demonstrating gross antiquated belief systems and an unjust social system.
I must ask, in the case that it hasn’t been considered, are our multicultural students of color being respected and appreciated for their diversity at this very critical moment in history? Have we concerned ourselves with their diversity in an effort to accommodate that of others, others whose “diversity” includes white supremacy, clear and undeniable attacks against a racial “other,” and a step backward in our nation’s quest for equal treatment of all its citizens? Perhaps it is time, then, for the UNC System to review and revise its guidelines.
When it affects an entire country’s morality, and has the potential to threaten a people’s safety, security, and wellbeing, it’s time. Guidelines and rule books can be altered, and have been throughout the history of our world, our nation, and our state.
If there is anyone who believes in and promotes the inclusion of a country’s citizens, it should be that country’s leader. If that leader falls short in that political, ethical, and social duty, it is time for that country to say so. As an institution of academia, higher learning, and elevated thinking, our university is exactly the sort of institution that need expect more, from our people and from ourselves.
We are either host to one who embodies and spreads a spirit of racism and hostility, or we are not, and we will go down in history as such. The discourse surrounding our university should be in support of the ideals that treat every person as valuable and worthy of their place here and in the world, the ideals of inclusion, equality, kindness, generosity, and respect. Given the magnitude of the state of our nation, its negative racial rhetoric and support for it, we are either aligned to these ideals, or we are not. I think it’s time to decide what spirit it is that we want to embody, and free ourselves up, for that embodiment. I think it’s time we decide what message it is that we want to send to our students of every skin color and background, and what message we want to send to our community and our world, about who we are and what our values are. Given the magnitude of the racial state of our nation, at this point in time, we are either host to racial slur and oppression, or we are standing up for something of higher quality and maintaining our moral integrity.
I’m afraid we have bold and courageous work to do, but first we must decide who it is we want to be, and to what brave lengths we will go to be just that.
Amanda Shingleton Robles
English Department, East Carolina University