#WUCanDoBetter event sparks campus-wide dialogue

Pray, and pray again: Cedrick Henderson-Smith shares his story of self-reflection regarding the recent social media incident where a Washburn student said a racially explicit word. Henderson-Smith, junior student at Washburn, talked about how fighting fire with fire only gets more people burned.

The evening of this past Tuesday, March 5, a campus discussion took place in the Blair room of the Living Learning Center. The discussion was prompted following a video posted on social media by a Washburn student. 

The video entailed a student, who may have been under the influence, singing along to a pop music song by the popular artist, Drake. The student used a racially explicit term instead of the original lyrics.

The video was quickly shared across social media platforms. Students and faculty shared their opinions on the video and possible consequences for the student in question.

“The video of that girl dropping the hard ‘r’ was not surprising to me in the least,” one comment read.

However, over the next 24 hours, the #WUCanDoBetter thread turned into something much more than just a hashtag. Students shared their experiences through the hashtag, and many tweeted about times where they felt discriminated against for their race, ethnicity or the way they talk.

“I’ve been asked if my parents are citizens of this country. #WUCanDoBetter,” read one post.

Another post said: “Does anyone remember when the student body was yelling derogatory terms at the HALO students during their ‘Yell Like Hell’ performance. Cause I sure as hell do.”

Others were quick to call for change by university officials.

“Disappointed, but not surprised. It’s not just one video, it’s a climate of festering racism. Standing with everyone speaking up about their experiences on campus. Listening. Hearing. And I hope @WashburnUniv is too. #WUCanDoBetter,” said one post underneath the thread.

Hosted by Washburn Young Life, the forum was a safe space for students to share their experiences and what they think the university needs to change.

A few administrators and community members also came to listen to students and share their experiences.

The meeting started with the Young Life Director, Andy, sharing a personal story.

“I had a cultural experience one day when I was out with a couple of friends at a restaurant and we were receiving bad service. I talked with my friends afterwards about the service and one of them said to me, ‘No Andy, it was more than that… this happens often to us. They then said, ‘Hey Andy, you don’t see it because you’re not like us.’”

Andy then admitted that his first gut reaction wasn’t the correct way to respond.

“I was angry. My first instinct was that I wanted to argue his experience. If I would’ve done that then that friendship would’ve been… I would’ve lost that friendship. Don’t argue someone’s experience.”

For the next two hours, student after student shared previous experiences where they were discriminated against.

“When you’re classified as a different nationality than you actually are, it is outright disrespectful,” said one student. “It is even worse when you are trying to clarify and they are still classifying me incorrectly under the wrong nationality… at that point I have to walk away because of how upset I am.”

Racial injustice is ongoing and something that can always be brought up in conversation, and it was hit on quite a bit during the evening. The video was inevitably mentioned.

“I wasn’t looking at it [the video] in the way that I should have at first,” said Cedrick Henderson-Smith, a junior at Washburn. “Everybody was shunning her and I felt like I didn’t have any remorse for her and I couldn’t ever come to forgive her but I sat on it and prayed on it. I didn’t say anything negative toward her as I knew that was the last thing she needed was another voice pushing her down.”

The conversation then took a surprising turn.

“I called her and apologized… told her how I felt about it at first glance,” Henderson-Smith said. “You could just hear the sadness in her voice… she said that she ‘didn’t feel it would have the impact that it did.’ I knew at that point that I didn’t need to add any more negativity.”

Henderson-Smith used the time to teach others about the importance of self-reflection and putting other people’s feelings above your own, even when it’s difficult to do. 

“This just goes to show that it’s not really our job to continue making people feel less than,” Henderson-Smith said. “It’s things like this that can come to suicide or anything that can make the situation worse.”

The conversation then turned to concerns regarding the university’s administration and current action.

“It feels like when something happens it gets shoved under the rug,” said Melissa Tovar, a senior Washburn student. “This is because of freedom of speech or a given policy. We, as students, are feeling ignored. One thing I challenge us to do is to keep speaking up because I’m tired of coming to meetings and sitting down with presidents and talking about my feelings and nothing happening. That’s not change.”

The frustration and emotions continued to mount inside of the tightly-packed room.

“It’s not our responsibility to teach you guys [administrators] right from wrong,” Tovar said. “You need to change your academic aspect or approach… add diversity and gender and ethnic study curriculum that’s required for students to graduate. I don’t want to sit here every night and create a program for you guys… so only half of you would go. The people that would need it the most wouldn’t go.”

These cohesive experiences and opinions have shed light onto a formulated cultural atmosphere that’s present on Washburn’s campus.

“It’s extremely frustrating when these topics are brought up and nothing gets done,” said Washburn student Sal Lucio. “We don’t get an apology, there’s no training on how to deal with diversity… there’s no training for staff, WUPO… the moment we quit talking about it then no one else is going to do it and that’s the sad truth. That’s why we’re here tonight.”

Many emotional, heart-breaking stories were shared involving discrimination, racially insensitive comments and times where he or she felt violated and uncomfortable.

Some students felt that their experiences, those mentioned during the meeting, are deeply personal and did not want them shared. 

These issues aren’t contained to the centrally-located university in Topeka. Reports have been recently made regarding the sexuality and ethical makeup of students at the University of Kansas.

Just this week, reports mentioned that an engineering professor was pulled from duties based on a comment that was made regarding a student’s ability to speak English.

“It’s not just our problem [people of color], there’s so many things going on everyday here on this campus, outside of Topeka and even as a nation,” said one student. “This is a reality check, now is the time to show these students that you truly care about their future with this university.”

Just before the meeting ended, a Kansas City native stood before the room and shared a piece of advice when facing times when your emotions may be getting the best of you.

“These things happen… are they fair… no,” said Emmanuel Herron. “You can choose how to respond. Anger is a secondary emotion. We have to become the change that we want to see in the world. We can’t respond with hate or ‘fighting fire with fire.’ I don’t have to react in anger because love is good and I feel compassion by hearing all of you out tonight. You all can be game changers when it comes down to it.”

#WUCanDoBetter #WUDemandsChange