On Thursday, I, along with 80 or so fellow students of color, was told by white, self-proclaimed "secular conservative" Heather Mac Donald that racism on college campuses ended decades ago.
This statement was made during a speech about the deficiencies of institutional attempts to promote diversity on college campuses at an event organized by The Statesman, a conservative publication on Penn’s campus that purportedly promotes free speech.
Conservatives around the country continue to push the narrative that liberals are too closed-minded and never want to engage in a conversation with people who have opposing views. Mac Donald herself claimed that shutting down ideas that challenge our beliefs is “educational malpractice.”
I went to this event to start that conversation. And more importantly, to show that as a black student at Penn, my feelings and experiences matter.
I left the event feeling that I could not possibly matter less.
Mac Donald began her speech by saying that “every student enrolled in this university is among the most privileged human beings in history,” and that “no one at UPenn hates UPenn students.”
Hate and privilege are strong words, with complex, multi-faceted meanings, I’ll admit that. But while attending Penn and having the opportunity to obtain a bachelor’s degree does advantage all of its students, that does not place all of its students on a level playing field.
On that same note, I doubt that most of the students and faculty at this campus outwardly hate students of color, women, or students of the LGBTQ community — all of whom Mac Donald claimed inaccurately call themselves victims. But that does not mean these groups are treated equally, or with the same respect that their white, male, cisgender colleagues are treated.
Racism, we often forget, shows itself in a variety of forms, at a variety of levels. There seems to be a common misconception that, because we had a black president, racism has disappeared. Because slavery was outlawed, black people aren’t enslaved in the form of mass incarceration. Because lynching is unconstitutional, black people aren’t beaten to death by the police.
While I could spend all day discussing in great detail the blatant effects of de jure residential segregation on our country’s increasing achievement gap — something that Mac Donald, when asked about during the Q&A session, failed to a) admit was significant, and b) provide any solutions — I am writing to stress the ways in which I, and many of my black peers at Penn, experience racism today.
Racism is having a student body that isn’t educated about the university’s cultural centers — often times resulting in a response of “what’s that?” when a black student talks with pride about their involvement in Makuu.
Racism is putting those cultural centers in the basement of ARCH, while almost every other center gets at least the first floor of, if not an entire, building. And we wonder why so few students have heard of them.
Racism is promoting Panhellenic Greek Life as a place where you can find your life-long sisters, empower women, and embrace your intersectional qualities, and then creating pledge classes that are overwhelmingly white, and scaring away hundreds of black women from rushing to begin with.
Racism is picking a black student last in a group project, and then giving that student the least amount of work.
Racism is continuously being surprised, and voicing that surprise (even if it’s masked as pleasant surprise), when a black person “speaks so well.”
Racism is suggesting that Africana Studies is not a “real major.”
And perhaps the biggest example of racism, is allowing The Statesman to bring in a speaker who makes students from underrepresented backgrounds feel worthless on this campus.
Mac Donald may not see or understand how racism exists today, but we sure do.
HADRIANA LOWENKRON is a College freshman studying Urban Studies and Journalism. She is a Robeson Cooper Scholar and is involved with the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project. She is also a DP copy associate. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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