As someone who has been living in Fredonia for a year and half, a lot of my opinions have changed about what I naively thought about the town. I thought it was a simple town that didn’t have any discriminatory feelings or ideas about people of color, and I was sadly wrong. Anywhere in the world you’ll find discrimination based on race, economic background or religion, but I wasn’t expecting this much from an area where I’m trying to get my education.
I tried to figure out if I was the only person of color who felt this way, and I wasn’t. Many of my peers who go to Fredonia have seen and/or been in a situation involving discrimination or racism. I was wondering, “Well, why was this the case? What makes my skin color so threatening that makes some white people feel that I’m always up to something?”
There was a situation in Walmart where I was buying a small bag of toiletries, and as I was leaving the store, I was asked for my receipt. At first, I was okay with it. While the employee checked my receipt, I noticed a white man walk right past, and the second employee that should be checking everyone’s receipts didn’t check his. This was the first time I had been asked to show my receipt. Also, this was the first time I tried to walk out with a hoodie on my head and my hand in my pocket, simply because I was cold.
Now, why did I have to be stopped with one bag while a man with an opposite skin tone walks past with 20 bags? To me, I was just cold and had a hoodie on to keep warm. But to most, I look suspicious.
My account isn’t the only one. There are many in Fredonia who don’t feel like Fredonia is home because of the discrimination we feel entering campus or even while off campus.
“I was sitting in a classroom, and the topic of discussion for the day was ‘poverty,’ then eventually it turned into ‘poor minorities’, then suddenly it became ‘poor black people on food stamps.’ Out of nowhere, the professor pointed me out and asked, ‘Why is there poverty in the African American community?’” said senior social work major Maimouna Sylla. “To some people, the professor asking me that question isn’t a big deal. However, for me it was extremely offensive, and I didn’t even know how to defend myself. Why did he ask the only black person in the classroom that question? Why did he just assume I knew the answer to that question?”
Racism and discrimination is real in the world, but it’s also very real on this campus. That’s what most people who aren’t faced with this issue seem to forget. It’s an everyday thing for people of color; it affects the way we talk, the way we dress and even the way we walk. Recent events in the news show black people getting shot because of the color of their skin, and we just simply don’t want to become the next hashtag. It’s so easy to ignore the problems that you don’t face with the switch of a channel or a flip in the page of a newspaper.
Senior music business major Eann Robinson said that he often hears “racist comments” in downtown Fredonia, including slurs.
“Knowing that we are in a predominately white area, you almost feel helpless and feel like, ‘If I speak up and things turn left, will I be protected? Will I be the victim or the person who is causing trouble?’ I almost feel unsafe and unrepresented in the Fredonia area,” said Robinson.
President Virginia Horvath believes that this issue needs to stop and that leaders of the school need to learn that things they say or do can be racist and discriminatory.
“I don’t want that to be the experience that people have here. I also feel, ‘What can we do?’ I was given a very specific list of the things we have to do and not continuously talk about. We also need to look at the different perspectives because for most white Americans, they don’t think about race, and we need to look at the way white privilege gives white Americans the freedom to not think about the things that other people face,” Horvath said.
Horvath added that the University is talking to local business owners about how to be more welcoming toward people of color as well as to professors.
“Some professors are unaware of the things they do say, so we need to work on the mechanisms on reporting these behaviors so that they can improve on them,” said Horvath.
There’s no excuses for the fact that people of color don’t feel safe and when there’s more focus on the color of our skin then the brains we have. People of color are just like everybody else, yet we’re treated as animals because of our skin tone. It’s time to start the conversation to end racism and discrimination, first on our campus and everywhere else once and for all.