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January 3, 2018

#WrongDoor: Ethno-stress and racially charged attacks on the UMass campus

As James Baldwin said, “If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.”

When I have the opportunity to speak with older brothers and sisters (many of whom were active in the civil rights movement after Brown versus Board of Education), I ask them about their views on compulsory school desegregation. The narrative, according to them, is that integration was one of the worst things for students of color in the United States.

I spoke to my great aunt Edna ad nauseam about this topic when I was younger. She reminisced about her elementary school days when her and my grandmother had to walk over three and a half miles (and past two white schools) to get to her one-room school.

It goes without saying that the “separate but equal” doctrine was inherently flawed in that Black schools were criminally underfunded and under-resourced compared to white schools. However, the qualitative data behind segregated schools is not always discussed.

My grandmother went into detail about her classroom environment – she frequently coordinated study and reading sessions with her classmates. Her teacher was attuned to her struggles in mathematics and tutored other students on Sundays after church. She provided my great aunt with higher-level books when she noticed her reading level was equivalent to that of a tenth grader’s. Her teacher had a rapport with my great-grandmother – they discussed her classroom performance in church, in the supermarket and even in their dining rooms. If my grandmother was not performing up to her potential, my great-grandmother was the first one to know. She even connected her to various professors at Spelman College to prepare her for the college application process.

So what happens when you remove the child from such a nurturing environment to one where the administration believes the melanin in your skin is an indicator of intellectual inferiority? Not only that, how does one navigate through a labyrinth composed of racial slurs and threats hurled at you by your alleged “peers”?

Before I lose anyone, I am not calling for a resegregation of public schools. However, it does not take a policy analyst to understand such hostility is not conducive to academic success.

We refer to such a phenomenon as ethno-stress – mental and social pressures students of color face while in predominately white spaces. Being one of eight Black students in lectures halls of 300 students is a direct example.

If that’s stressful, try to imagine how I felt when I walked back to my dorm and found this waiting for me.

(Courtesy of Josh Odam/Daily Collegian)

(Courtesy of Josh Odam/Daily Collegian)

Two days ago, this was waiting on my dorm door when I returned from Ferguson. This cowardly act of hate speech not only violated my space, but permeated the “harambee” community we have worked so hard to build.

This is where that ethnostress rears its ugly head. When situations such as these occur (slurs written on the wall, nooses hung on trees, etc.) it prevents students from focusing on academics as they should as paying students of the University. The self-awareness and hypervigilance is increased because it is a natural defense mechanism. However, when students of color act on the “fight or flight” response, we are stigmatized whenever we do either.

To be blunt, whoever did this messed with the wrong one. They went to the wrong door, the wrong floor and the wrong community. We will not stand for this ignorance on our campus and will hold the University and ourselves directly accountable to ensure the safety of Black students, students of color and the entire population.

The anger and confusion soon subsided as the community rallied around me and other colleagues who were also targeted over the weekend. Last night’s town hall meeting in Coolidge Hall proved that people are also fed up and are ready to mobilize. I implore all stakeholders with a vested interest in this situation to attend the Diversity Town Hall Meeting in Thompson Hall room 106 today, Thursday, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. This will be a place to ask questions to our administration about their plan to combat racism and increase diversity on campus.

It is my hope these unfortunate events snap the University out of the idea that we are so far removed from race.

Audre Lorde once said, “Your silence will not protect you.” Your ignorance will not either.

Josh Odam is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at jodam@umass.edu.

Comments
24 Responses to “#WrongDoor: Ethno-stress and racially charged attacks on the UMass campus”
  1. Stephanie Brown says:

    Thanks for writing this, Josh. I’m sorry it happened to you, but I’m glad you’re not being silent about it.

  2. Soren Hough says:

    Same thing happened with swastikas in high school and, yes, at UMass. It always makes me wonder what other insidious thoughts are bubbling just under the surface… Truly frightening.

  3. John Higginson says:

    Thank you, Josh, for standing up for true freedom, justice and equality.

    Yours in the Long March,

    John Higginson

  4. David Mednicoff says:

    Josh — Glad this awful incident has encouraged you to speak out honestly and forcefully. I know you have the overwhelming majority of the UMass’ community’s support.

    Thanks for writing.

    (Prof.) David Mednicoff

  5. Ed Cuttting says:

    Josh, ask yourself two questions — and answer them honestly to yourself:

    1: Who knew that you were in Fergoson, that this was *your* door, and even who you are?
    .
    Memory is that there are 550 students in a tower, that’s over 200 doors in T-6 alone, even if this wasn’t directed at you personally, how would/could the perp possibly have known which door to smear this filth onto?
    .
    It is not statistically likely that this was random, AND it had to have been done in a very narrow timeframe because otherwise one of the RAs would have seen it and reported it to the UMPD while you were still in Fergoson, right?
    .
    2: Have you considered the possibility that this is (a) someone who knows you *personally* and (b) wants to hurt you *and* (c) knows that writing that on your door would definitely hurt you — that racism was only a means and not the end itself.
    .
    Such things do happen — I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember — it is a really vicious thing to do.
    .
    I remember one Black student who was screaming the most vile of racial slurs out his window.
    .
    I remember when a gay male was “outing” various members of what was then called the “2 in 20” floor — this was before Facebook but we did have photocopiers and one student’s parents received an envelope in the mail with things going downhill from there. Concurrent (but unrelated) were explicit death threats that a gay male and lesbian female received through the US Mail (which made this a Federal offense) — and I’m being vague here to protect the identities of all the victims.
    .
    Yes, there were mental health issues involved in at least some of these incidents — it was what was behind the rape hoaxes of 1999-2000 — and it well may be the case here. Or not.
    .
    You won’t know unless/until the UMPD catch the schmuck who did it, and the way you help that is POST A REWARD. $500/$1000 in cash money is a STRONG incentive to talk to the police, or to Enku Gelaye or to a bunch of other people — that’s what I’d suggest the SGA do here — appropriate some money for a reward, find out who the hell did this — and THEN come to your conclusions about why it was done, when you know who did it…

  6. Jim Carroll says:

    Yeah man, any door with this garbage written on it is the wrong door for sure. I’m with you Josh.

    Jim Carroll, Ph.D.
    Lecturer & Academic Program Manager
    University Without Walls
    UMass Center at Springfield

  7. A fine response, Josh, to that vile act. Keep up the fight, may all join with you, for the duration.

  8. Tawana says:

    For a second there, when that idiot got arrested, I admitted I was wrong. But now they’re saying that’s unrelated to this “incident”. So I still think Josh did this himself.

  9. Carolyn says:

    Eloquently written and beautifully argued points. One of my students at WWU shared this with me today. I am terribly sorry this is happening, sorry you have to be the target of this hate, and hopeful that you are surrounded by support and allies. Keep speaking up, even when it becomes exhausting. Yours is a voice that needs to be heard.

  10. Zack Z says:

    Josh,

    I agree with what you have to say and am truly sorry that anyone would every write such harmful things on your door. It’s great to see that you are brining this into the spotlight and I believe that our community will rally around you. These acts are unacceptable and appalling both at our university and all over the world. I hope that your article will help stop any future acts of hate and discrimination.

  11. Jack L says:

    Hey Josh,

    It’s sad and truly terrible that this happened to you. That such instances of racism continue to occur in academic environments like ours is tragic. It’s great that you are taking this situation as an opportunity to spread awareness and get your message out.

  12. Jack O says:

    Josh,

    This is terrible that anyone in this day and age would write this on your door. I find it awesome that other students in our UMass community have rallied around you and are as feed up with this as you are. This is not right to have in our community and it is awesome that you and a fellow group of peers are taking a stand against this hate.

  13. Austin D'Agostino says:

    Josh,

    Sorry this happened to you. I completely agree with your points about racism. Racism just doesn’t make any sense in this day and age. In fact, racism has never made any sense. What’s the purpose of discriminating against someone because their skin is a different color? It just doesn’t make any sense. Racism needs to stop and I believe that someday it will. Good luck with your future endeavors.

    Best of luck,

    Austin

  14. Emily M says:

    As both students and members of the UMass Amherst community, we play a crucial role in keeping our community and those who are a part of it safe. It is our own individual responsibility to reject and take action against acts of hatred and violence. There is no excuse for this type of hateful behavior and it should not be tolerated. We are all a part of this community and must look out for one another and take a stand against racism and inequality that are still clearly very much of a problem on campus if we want to end it. It was the right decision that you didn’t let this crime go unheard of as the person behind it should be penalized.

  15. Rose K says:

    Josh,

    Although these occurrences were disgusting and hurtful, it’s incredible that you’ve decided to use it to spread awareness of the ever present racism in the world. As a community, it is our job to continue your words and keep reminding people to keep our campus safe and free of judgement. The people responsible should not be overlooked and do deserve to be punished for their disgusting actions of hate. Your words are extremely inspiring and motivate students and faculty all across campus to take a stand against racism.

  16. Jeff P says:

    Josh,

    Thank you for sharing this article with the rest of the Umass campus. I think that by you writing this article more people will come forward with similar situations. It is important that these hate crimes don’t go unheard. By you writing this article I am hoping more voices will speak up. As a campus, it is important that we come together when a situation like this occurs to show support. When the person behind this horrible act becomes indicted it is important that they get the highest charge possible to show that this type of behavior in our day and age will not be tolerated. Racism and hate towards any group of people based on race or orientation needs to be stopped immediately and it starts with speaking up when you see something, even if you are a bystander.

  17. Phoebe A says:

    It is profound that today we are still struggling to treat each other as equals. There is no reason anyone should come back to their dorm and be forced to read such hurtful comments. I commend you, Josh for not only speaking out about this event but for also encouraging others to help make a difference. I believe it should be required for all UMass students to read your post as it shows just how demeaning racist comments can be. It is necessary that everyone on campus is accepting so that we can all finish what we came here to do which is learn.

  18. Michelle R says:

    It’s disgusting somebody finds this funny and I’m sorry you had to be the reciever of this act. I thought in today’s time people were smart enough not do do something so blatanly racist. As a community as UMass we need to stand up to these problems clearly prevalent on campus and unite to stop such an event happening to an innocent. I wish the best and I’m sorry this had to happen to anyone at all.

  19. DKL says:

    stand for yourself and others, it is said that ignorance will never help the situation, so speak up. In the country of multiple races, we are still in the process of learning how to treat each other equally. Thanks for sharing the awful experience and let us all learn from there. Make present a history.

  20. Dana K says:

    It really is sad how much hate there still is in the world. The fact that something like this happened here at UMass shows how racism is still a significant problem in our society. It is important that we, the student body, look out for each other and the safety of everyone. If someone wants to spread hate around UMass, they have no place in our community. We have to show that we will not tolerate hateful acts or racism of any kind in our community. I’m sorry this terrible thing happened to you but I’m glad you spoke up.

  21. NIck M says:

    I cannot believe something like this happened this day in age. I’m not sure if the person who wrote this thought it was funny, or truly has racial hatred, but both scenarios are equally sickening. I believe most Umass students are smart enough not to write such a stupid, ignorant thing on your door, so i’m praying this was not the work of one of your fellow classmates. It’s such a shame we even have to discuss racism this day in age.I hope the person or people who are responsible are caught and punished, and I hope the Umass response sends a clear message that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.

  22. Olivia E says:

    Josh,
    I am sorry that you had to be the victim of such a disgusting and ignorant act. Through your sharing of your story and speaking up to spread awareness, you are beginning to bring this campus community together to combat this horrible racism. Your words are very motivating and prove how strong of an individual you are. I think it is awesome that you are standing up for yourself and bringing everyone together to form a judgement and hate free campus. I’m sorry this had to happen to you.

  23. Anthony P says:

    Josh,
    I’m glad your bringing this to everyone’s attention. As a member of this school I can’t believe that we’re still fighting against ethno-stress. Events like this are unnecessary, and I can’t imagine how you feel to be the victim in this situation. I hope that in the future things like this won’t happen because we’re setting the precedent now. I’m on your side Josh.
    Anthony

  24. Tawana says:

    ^Most suspect pattern of commenting ever^

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