Last Saturday, I thought I had suddenly gained dozens of new friends. In just over an hour, I received nearly 50 e-mails from unfamiliar addresses. Staring at my overflowing in-box, I had momentary visions of who was writing me (Long lost friends from home? Internship coordinators? The president?), before I realized they were listserv forwards. These e-mails, in fact, were all in response to Gregory Seaton's experience at Campus Copy Center. The original e-mail, containing Seaton's details of his encounter with Campus Copy employees, had provided a catalyst for campus discussion, most of which seemed to end up on my computer screen.. While I was distressed to see a fellow student placed in this uncomfortable situation, the dialogue that Seaton's e-mail generated was invigorating. It was good to see students thinking and discussing discrimination, the justice system and our place in both. Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that responses to the event split along racial lines. This is not to say that every white student on campus related only to the business owner and his potential loss, or that all students of color demanded that the store be shut down. There were, however, several accusations made by white students that Seaton was simply playing the "discrimination card." In contrast, it was also evident that, as Provost Robert Barchi said, "This is something that people of color [were] not surprised to see happen." Even if white students were surprised or suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the event, we, as a community, made little effort to further investigate the situation in the days that followed the initial e-mail. The informational meeting held on April 8, for example, was attended primarily by students of color. And while the Undergraduate Assembly was present, it certainly did not represent the immediate interests of all students. Currently, minority interest groups, such as the United Minorities Council, the Black Student League, the Asian Pacific Student Coalition and the W.E.B. DuBois House Council are all actively supporting the boycott. In contrast, the white community -- after two days of anxious discussion -- has seemingly become completely disinterested in the issue. The passion of some student groups should not influence the ultimate decisions of others, but it is our responsibility as fellow students to thoroughly investigate any issue concerning one of our own, especially one that is strongly supported by a specific part of the student population. If someone in a leadership position as high as the DuBois faculty master speaks out in favor of the boycott, it is the job of the rest of the community to find out why. But as attendance at recent meetings indicates, the rest of the community has failed to take these steps. Even if a student assumes that Seaton's allegations result from his perceived feelings of racism, it is that student's responsibility to question why that perception exists among many of Penn's students of color. Instead of continuing with this reflection, many white students have simply assumed that the current boycott reflects only a desire to complain. This theory is both uninformed and dangerous. Seaton's e-mail may not be objective, but sadly, we live in a society where his reality could easily be the truth. As comments at last Sunday's meeting indicated, students of color and white students feel that they routinely have very different experiences, not only in local businesses, but also in the way that complaints of violence and other crimes are handled. And these differences are most likely just a small part of a larger problem. It is our duty to investigate why certain parts of our population feel strongly about the Seaton event -- by attending a meeting regarding the boycott or speaking to someone who is organizing it. Beyond that, however, it is also important to learn about the differences in our experiences on a much broader level. There are several organizations on campus that foster this dialogue, such as Programs for Awareness of Cultural Education, Seeking Common Ground and Alliance and Understanding. In addition, any of the resource centers on campus can direct you to one-day workshops or lectures. Above all, do not simply ignore this controversy. Regardless of the police investigation's final report, take the dialogue and divide that this issue has rekindled and use it to explore the larger issues -- racism and disunity, for example -- that most definitely pervade our existence as Penn students.Comments powered by Disqus
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