Dear editors and community,
During my last four years, a professor once asked our class to critique a performance done in blackface. In class we explained why wearing marginalized identities as costumes is disrespectful. Our professor repeatedly responded by saying, “It’s just acting. That’s the whole point of acting. You’re supposed to transform.” Our professor ended our conversation with, “There are strong arguments on both sides.” We repeated that we were trying to help our professor understand why this was harmful to our community so our professor could do what we know they would want – to create a welcoming learning environment. We repeated that we were coming from a place of love.
We noticed our professor stared only at me for the rest of class. Once after I volunteered to read from the board, our professor made fun of the sound of my voice.
The last day I attended this class I shared an experience of racial violence I had downtown that previous weekend in which I was targeted for being Asian American. I explained again that some of us don’t get to take the “costume” of race off, nor do we receive Oscar awards or applause for facing violence simply for being who we are. Our professor laughed and said, “I don’t think anyone would want to say anything after that.” My peers spoke up against this response. If it weren’t for my peers in this class and the rest of our community, I could not have gotten through this time. I also appreciate the professors and administrators, as well as a few student unions, that were at my side through this.
Students soon after told me they were defending me from professors that I’ve still never met who vocalized resentment toward me during their classes, office hours, and over email in reaction to hearing about our class. Students told me they feared speaking up in their own similar classroom situations after witnessing how these professors treated me. The first day of the next semester, I dropped a class after a professor said “I know all about you,” and asked if I could even handle taking a hard class with so much homework.
We should be careful and thoughtful of who’s narrative we listen to in these situations. My peers and I weren’t trying to ban books or conversations about racism. We believe there is no conversation too difficult, but conversations about racism aren’t the same as arguing for making excuses for racism. Asking for accountability from our professors isn’t the same as trying to “cancel” them. If you deny and retaliate when we name and recognize ignorance, then you block us all from stepping toward growth together.
We shouldn’t be made to feel afraid to ask for respect for one another, or ourselves. It’s not enough to only sometimes feel welcome at school. Being bullied by people who are supposed to create a welcoming learning environment, whether mindless or not, took a toll on my mental health. But I’ve learned that what we do on one hand and what happens to us on the other is arbitrary. And luckily, I had the support of our community to get me through. I wasn’t the only student to document and report what happened.
We ask to refrain from ostracizing students for communicating distress. I hope professors can understand that when students speak up, we are doing this from a place of love because we know that all educators aim to create a safe and welcoming learning environment and so we all need to work together to achieve this. These are our classrooms too. Keeping each other in check is an act of love for all parties involved.
Whatever hate I may receive again, I write this to ask for a focus on hope for change. We know we can’t change anyone, but we will keep asking for respect. And even if some may never give it to you, always know you’re still deserving of it. Remember to have respect for yourself. We are only here once.