Letter to the editor: by first listening, white students can have strong voice in race discussion

Friday afternoon I became aware of a poorly researched and racist letter addressed to BSU’s president, Micah Oliver, which included the comment “Black Student Assn isn’t racist? How many whites belong?”, among other comments and slurs. Upon reading this, I felt very strongly that I needed to address.

I am not going to discuss whether or not groups like “Black Student Union” are racist, because it’s not even a discussion – they’re simply not. And as a white student, it can be difficult and extremely uncomfortable to voice your opinions about race issues on campus. However, only by breaking through one’s comfort zone can we properly address and begin to fix these prevalent issues.

I found myself at my first Black Student Union meeting the same day as the controversial “Whites Only” sign incident in September. Sitting in a room where tensions and emotions obviously ran high, I will admit, it was overwhelmingly uncomfortable being one of the couple white students present. However, I knew that I needed to be there, I needed to be involved in the race discussion on campus.

You see, as a white student, you see “the other side” of race issues on campus. You see what your white counterparts talk about when there are no black students around. It can be a difficult thing to deal with when you realize some of the people you consider your friends are participating in conversations that are offensive, ignorant, and simply racist in nature. So, I learned that even as a white student, I do have the ability and power to play an important part in the race discussion on campus. Through educating myself on these issues, whether on my own, by sitting in on Black Student Union discussions, or by taking classes that deepen my understanding on such plaguing issues, I have been able to arm myself with knowledge to combat both these offhanded comments, and overtly racist remarks said in the absence of my black peers.

This is why I personally take offense to the comment made by the sender of the previously mentioned letter. Since the first day I got involved with BSU, their e-board members have both welcomed and valued my presence and opinions. They have also encouraged me to bring other students to the meetings. Not once has my presence ever been questioned or have I felt excluded from a meeting or event. I have even spoke to members of their e-board angry and upset about racist incidents that I had witnessed on campus to which they responded only with the utmost dignity and respect, truly better than I could have responded to those incidents. I sincerely admire the perseverance of both the leaders of BSU and its members through all the criticism and backlash they have faced, especially recently. The Black Student Union has played a critical role on this campus by opening the dialogue of race and serving as a role model for how all other clubs and organizations should be maintained, and it should not be viewed as anything less.

Often times us white students do not feel that we should be part of this dialogue for fear that it is not our place or that we may unintentionally say something offensive. Personally, I have found that by first listening, I can acquire a strong voice in this conversation. I stand with University at Buffalo’s Black Student Union.

Brittany Herbert

Legal Studies, 2017