February was supposed to be a month to pay tribute to generations of African Americans who struggled to achieve full citizenship in the United States. For many at Drexel University, Black History Month passed by unappreciated until the very dying days. The airwaves were disturbed Feb. 20 via email, not by the pomp and fanfare of celebration, but by the now-often expected regret of tragedy. Once again, in failing to proclaim what the school stands for and celebrates, the Drexel University leadership has been caught pants down.
It is this reticence that the hundred or so students who participated in the silent sit-in last Friday lamented. For far too long the school leadership has failed to clearly and unequivocally take a stance, for fear of retaliation. Instead, the university spells out cliched statements of “zero tolerance” and directs students to obscure offices in the basement of MacAlister Hall, all the while decrying the lack of school spirit. Months like February, which are imbued with meaning, give the school leadership a chance to rally the students behind a voice that spells out our ideals. But the silence from the school leadership was loud this month. A silence that, in failing to acknowledge the merit of an oppressed people, perhaps gave credence to the oppressor.
The college campus is a community that largely mirrors the ideals of a diverse society, and that is rightfully lauded. And just like the larger society, a campus community is bound to be unpredictable, with some students who hold views that differ starkly with established ideals such as the equality of African Americans. But what elevates a college campus is the environment it provides for students to practice what ought to be and not merely what is. That is the promise that thousands of eager students ascribe to as they matriculate. Imagine their surprise when they are the victims of such cowardly acts of anonymous racism. We do not wish to insinuate that silence from the university leadership led directly to that damned racial slur. That would be reductionist. But it left a vacuum that allowed a fringe idea to permeate.
Last week’s discriminatory incident is on our tongues just because we heard about it. But it certainly is not the only discriminatory incident against a black student on this campus. And it will probably not be the last of its kind if the status quo prevails. It is now a question of yet more importance whether the school will maintain its reactive leadership-by-email stance, or practically show us what it stands for through proactive action.