By Christina Stavale
Sentiments of openness and a resolution to take the issue of race relations into the hands of determined students and faculty resonated throughout Black United Students’ regular meeting last night.
The meeting centered around the issue brought up by Daily Kent Stater columnist Beth Rankin in her March 13 column “I am not a white bitch,” which raised issues of non-black students feeling unwelcome at BUS events and BUS not embracing its white and some black members.
Rankin explained her reasons for the column, while BUS members addressed their own issues with it. Conversation then turned to tackling the larger issue.
“I think (this meeting) could be one of the most important meetings of my 13 years being here on this campus,” said Pan-African Studies professor George Garrison, who moderated last night’s discussion.
Rankin’s column, he said, provided the university with both an opportunity and responsibility that mirrors the same issues surrounding the nation with presidential candidate Barack Obama.
“The climate that exists on this campus includes more than just this incident,” he said.
Anastasiya Spytsya, sophomore Russian translation major from Ukraine, said she came to the United States wanting to learn. For example, she took the class Black Experience I to learn about the African-American experience. But she said she’s felt judged as a “white girl.”
While she has many black friends, she said it’s been hard to get to know them.
“I know what you’ve been through,” she said, “and I’ve tried to get to know you, and it’s hard.”
Quiera Lige, BUS academic affairs chair, pointed out that learning the history of others can help draw connections with one another, while looking at someone only by race separates people.
For example, she said when she first looked at Spytsya, she saw a girl who was white. She couldn’t tell anything about her history. After learning she was from Ukraine, however, she was able to begin to draw similarities between Spytsya’s history and her own history.
“Our history is what unifies us,” Lige said. “Race is what tears us apart.”
Themes of personal responsibility surfaced, urging people to take matters into their own hands.
Carla Smith, a former BUS executive board member, said students need to challenge themselves and step outside their comfort zone. They should not be afraid to be different.
“Take it beyond a conversation,” she said. “You’re responsible for yourself.”
As blacks, Smith said, it’s natural instinct to stick together. She asked people not to hold blacks accountable for not recognizing other races who attend their events if the person him or herself does not take the initiative to talk.
“The real world begins here,” she said. “Take responsibility for your own growth and education. If you’re not getting enough in class, continue to come here (to BUS meetings).”
Members also discussed creating dialogue between races on an everyday basis. BUS programmer and President-elect Ashley Tolliver mentioned a conversation she recently had with her white roommate that she said “proved we can have a nice conversation about race.”
She said they talked about small things like clothing and hairstyle, as well as more serious things.
“Your excuse for not talking can’t be because you’re scared,” she said.
Lige pointed out that bridging race relations can’t end with these one-on-one conversations. She said one of the first steps people take should be to speak up if a friend or family member says something ignorant — to “realize where we are in society and make steps to change it.”
Garrison called last night’s conversation a historic event on Kent State’s campus.
“It creates the condition necessary for progress,” he said.
Contact minority affairs reporter Christina Stavale at cstavaleATkent.edu. Managing editor Tim Magaw also contributed to this story.