In the last week of October, Professor Emiliana Cruz, an assistant professor in the anthropology department at the University of Massachusetts, found that one of her posters about the distinction between dialects and languages in Mexico was vandalized. The phrase, “Go home,” written in Spanish, was surprising to many, but not to me. For, contrary to what the University says, I do see that hate has a home on this campus.
From my first days at UMass, I knew this environment was very different from my past environment and I would definitely need time to adjust. Initially, I believed that it was the lack of racial diversity on campus that made the new environment I was in feel so different. I thought it was easier for white students to blend in and feel represented. However, upon talking to students and professors, I have come to learn that, for a lot of students, this is the most diverse environment they have ever been in.
UMass is considered a liberal school, mostly because it is located in Amherst, and some of the professors are liberal, but the student population is very diverse in political views. As I have discovered from seeing a David Duke bumper sticker on campus, we even have some people who support white supremacists at this school.
In Southwest Residential Area, I have encountered white men who say they feel “underrepresented” at school and in class, because for possibly the first time ever, they have liberal teachers who speak on the issues of race, gender and colonialism in a way that rejects the white male patriarchy. In my freshman seminar, a white man spoke openly about his distaste for hip-hop because he felt “silenced” by the underlying issue of race. To me, the white man feeling “silenced” seems to be a trend on campus, and I’m sure this is a cause root of much of the hate toward other people and ideas. And that’s understandable; I get pretty hateful when I come across people who silence me because they have different views than I do, such as white supremacists. My classmate’s comment frustrated me, but I am glad that he shared how he felt so I could argue with him about it. If the alternative to conversation in class is faceless vandals spewing hate across campus, then I’ll take the former any day.
As I’ve discussed with Professor Whitney Battle-Baptiste, a Bronx native and an associate professor of anthropology here at the University, many of the white students who are coming to this school come from towns and schools where everyone else looks like them and thinks like them; many have never experienced people or ideas that are different from theirs. This isn’t an excuse to be intolerant and disrespectful, but it does explain where some of their views may be coming from. Young minds need to be expanded in the classroom by conversation with students who are different from them and have different views from them. Nonetheless, she reminded me that our campus is a reflection of our nation, so naturally there will be divides and points of contention. You tell someone to “go home” because you feel threatened by them—and there are a lot of people who feel threatened in this country.
Around the same time as the vandalism on Cruz’s poster, my friend and I used our experiences with cultural appropriation to help other students in our political science class understand why it is an issue. Our teacher introduced the topic in the context of Halloween. All of the students in class could relate because during Halloween, our Resident Assistants asked us to be culturally sensitive in the spirit of hate not having a home at UMass. This was the first time that many students felt their creativity surrounding Halloween costumes was being curbed, but many still put their Bob Marley hats on and went to parties as “stoners.” Despite the conversation we had with our RAs at our floor meeting before ‘Halloweekend,’ I saw numerous hateful costumes; but I knew there was no stopping it. Instead, the conversation about Halloween had to become a conversation about culture. Speaking in class brought me out of my comfort zone because I don’t usually talk about cultural appropriation with people who have never experienced it. I could feel my liberal bubble popping. I could feel myself getting angry and hateful toward actions that I considered angry and hateful.
I do not think that we can abolish all hate from UMass, because as long as our school is a reflection of our nation, there will always be differences in opinion that cause tension. I think that the University administration has a good heart when it puts up banners that say, “Hate has no home at UMass,” but it’s inaccurate and inadequate. If that’s going to be our slogan, then much more has to be done, and we have certainly not solved anything yet. I prefer slogans such as, “Home for conversation,” or “Home for diverse ideas,” because we should be encouraging conversation around topics that can make people feel hateful. We can’t glaze over the issue of hate in our country and reject it; instead, we have to explore those issues and talk about them. I’m certainly not on campus to be the nicest and cheeriest person. I am not silent, and I am not always kind. I argue and bring up topics that may make others feel uncomfortable. But this should be embraced instead of covered up by a banner that says, “Hate has no home at UMass.”
Sonali Chigurupati is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]