After racial tensions exploded into epithets and horrendous threats of racial violence last month on the University of Missouri campus, Oregon State students organized to voice their concerns and to motivate faculty to ensure that what happened at Mizzou stays far away from OSU.
Three Oregon State students, Jesseanne Pope, Jasmine Armas, and Haniya Ferrell, organized a speak-out event for students of color on campus to air their grievances and for white students, faculty, and community members to listen and comprehend. On Nov. 17, one by one (or in pairs because, as some participants reported, they felt unsafe in a room full of white faces) students came to the mic speaking about feelings that they were in danger walking across campus, the various racist and discriminatory situations they come across in their day-to-day life, and the frustration in feeling underrepresented and misrepresented in their majors. The event was filmed for the purpose of livestreaming and posted online for students unable to attend.
During the event, it seems that a student knowingly posted the link onto a controversial online image message board, 4chan. Once certain members of their community got their hands on the stream, the chat was flooded with racist remarks. Whether or not these remarks were only partially from OSU students or sourced completely from 4chan users is still unknown. Investigations are ongoing into the comments made and whether or not those comments were made from the campus.
If anything, the comments only further proved the points that the students were trying to make. Racism is present everywhere, even in sleepy progressive Corvallis. Work needs to be done, even at seemingly diverse and forward-thinking Oregon State. And all of us need to truly listen to these students.
Ed Ray, president of Oregon State University, was in attendance that night and promised multiple times to hear the cries for help and to do something about it.
In a statement released the day after the event, Ray called for change.
“We must do better beginning now,” Ray stated. “We must change students’ experiences and foster a community of greater inclusivity, racial justice, and safety. I will not stop until we do so. But to do this correctly and effectively, our students need to be part of the discussion and the solutions. As OSU’s president, I will be much more aware of what’s going on and be more fully engaged with our students.”
In fact, on Nov. 23, Ray met with the organizers of the event in an effort to develop both short and long term plans for what Oregon State has to do to make its campus more inclusive, better represented, and generally safer.
At the time of writing, Oregon State has not made any official statements about their plans, but with the public nature of Ray’s responses, movement can be expected sometime soon.
It can be easy to dismiss that racism and racial tension exist in Corvallis, especially if you are not a person of color. But when an auditorium full of students are telling you the realities they live with and are then backed up by individuals seeking to hide behind the veil of online anonymity to threaten and demean them, it becomes a little clearer that this is a problem here, too.
By Nathan Hermanson