Scratching the surface: Reflections from the town hall meeting

Panelists describe their experiences at the town hall meeting to address campus racism. Photo credit gettysburg.edu

Panelists describe their experiences at the town hall meeting to address campus racism. Photo credit gettysburg.edu

By Jenna Seyer, Staff Writer

“A lot times Gettysburg misses the point,” said Jasmine Santana.

The town hall meeting that took place January 21, one of the most powerful discussions I’ve ever attended, hopefully represents a major step forward in improving the racial climate at Gettysburg College.

With nearly thirty students of color sharing their own experiences, stories and hardships, senior Ashley Fernandez first presented a film that emphasized a reclaiming of the narrative and the identity of students of color on campus. Culturally and historically we bear witness to racism every single day: the Ghetto Fabulous Mixer from two chapter houses, the attitude of white privilege, some fraternity members who turn away students of color from parties. It has become a local movement and a campus fight to bring about change. We are part of a society where instead of responding to micro-aggressions or hostility toward those who are stereotypically presented as different, individuals of our generation either ignore this racist ideology or continue to spread the same kind of hate.

“I do not see myself represented in the curriculum,” explained Jasmine Santana.

“My accent has nothing to do with my educational abilities,” stated Jasmine Matos.

“When you dress up in corn rows and tattoos and sag your pants low, that’s offensive. That’s my culture. It’s not who I am; that’s not who my people are,” said a contributing panelist.

The students of color on campus are Gettysburg too. The color of their skin does not make them any different than everyone else. When we applied to Gettysburg College, we were all numbers on paper. When we were accepted, we became Gettysburgians. When we walked through Pennsylvania Hall, we officially became a part of something larger than ourselves, of a community of diverse individuals. And that’s exactly what the purpose of the town hall meeting was—to educate, to rid of ignorance and to provide minority students with a chance to begin reclaiming their own identity. That identity is something far more than just a number, more than simply a box checked “yes” for black, white or anything else. That identity is the ability to walk across campus as accepted, intelligent students; it is being able to be heard, to voice their own opinions, to be represented equally in the classroom; it is recovering the pieces of themselves that they lost in an effort to belong.

“[I’ve had moments when] I had to silence my thoughts to appease my professor,” said Tiarra Riggins.

This is not only a movement to promote equality and respect among students on campus, but it is also an endeavor to address ignorance—a collaboration meant to unite both black and white students at Gettysburg College. I have found that racial biases are evident in social settings on campus, as I’m sure many have discovered as well. There are measures being taken by the college (IDI and other policies) to create a more unified and comfortable environment for everyone.

As President Riggs stated in the beginning of the meeting, we must create a system that believes in every single student. We need to understand why students of color do not feel included here on our campus. We must spark open discussion and confrontational conversations in the classroom to create a better climate of racism at Gettysburg College. And, most importantly, we must continue to chip away at the surface to make minority students feel more comfortable—as equal members of our college community, regardless of the color of their skin.

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