On April 25, students, faculty and senior administrative staff sat in the Multipurpose Room of the David S. Mack Student Center for a Town Hall organized and moderated by SGA Senator Carissa Ramirez.
At the Town Hall, I asked President Rabinowitz, “What do we have to do, or what do we have to say for students of color to finally be as valued as our white counterparts?”
Since drafting the petition calling on the administration to remove the sculpture of Thomas Jefferson, I have spent a great deal of time attempting to formulate the argument that would finally inspire the University to remove this sculpture. To my co-organizers and I, it appears that none of the information we are presenting has moved the administration any closer to the resolution we desire.
The repeated rape of multiracial slave Sally Hemings, beginning when she was 14 years of age, has not inspired action. Thomas Jefferson’s documented calls for the genocide and mass murder of enslaved populations after seeing the success of the Haitian slave rebellion has not inspired action. Thomas Jefferson’s role in sustaining slavery in America and having owned over 600 slaves over the course of his lifetime has not inspired action.
Students expressing that the university’s decision to participate in the immortalization of Thomas Jefferson has induced a significant amount of mental, physical and emotional distress in students of color, survivors of sexual assault and members of other underrepresented groups has not inspired action.
President Rabinowitz responded to my question with, “You do matter, and every single student on this campus matters to me...I understand that it helps you in some way to say that we don’t think you’re as important as others...but you are...” This comment filled me with an anger I was unable to process to an extent that permitted me to write about it until this week. And even now, I still debate whether or not these feelings are eloquent enough for publication.
Upon reflection, I realize my anger is less about the condescending, invalidating nature of the comments, but rather that President Rabinowitz has absolutely no idea what it is like to be black, a woman and unapologetic about those identities at Hofstra University.
President Rabinowitz has no idea how incapacitating it is to be so paranoid about which administrator’s desk your tweets, your Facebook posts, your emails or screenshots of text conversations you had with your friends in confidence will end up on.
President Rabinowitz has no idea how nauseating it was for me to read about how many white men have the means to kill me and how willing many of them were to do so, simply because I dared remind the campus community that just because we are told that this is the greatest nation in the world and that the Founding Fathers were brave, selfless champions of freedom and justice does not mean such is the case.
President Rabinowitz has no idea how traumatizing it has been for me to force myself to abide by respectability politics because as my pain and its validity is labeled divisive and misdirected, is the lede of journalism course assignments, is the subject of academic papers and is the motivation behind social media posts labeling me a terrorist.
President Rabinowitz has no idea how difficult it is to bite my tongue when I am met with, “this is just one example of the pussification of America,” “slavery was a bajillion years ago,” “you’re what sustains the racial divide in our country,” “blacks are always blaming their shortcomings on whitey,” “you are lucky to be born here; do you see how dirty Africa is today” and “the Irish were also slaves, but you don’t hear us complaining.”
President Rabinowitz has no idea how exhausting it is to lose sleep and to struggle to eat because even though you know that you are on the right side of this issue, you have been so conditioned by American society to feel guilty about being black, about the discomfort your skin color arouses in white people, about vocalizing distress when racism is too much to handle that day and about telling your peers or your professors “that is not funny” when your oppression becomes the joke.
President Rabinowitz has no idea how enraging it is for racism to somehow always be the fault of people of color when we never even asked to even be a part of this America. My ancestors never consented to pillaging, rape, kidnapping, enslavement, lynchings, medical experimentation, Jim Crow, housing discrimination, poverty or environmental racism.
I never consented to deal with any of the consequences of institutional racism or to be socially, economically and politically disadvantaged because of the fragility of white masculinity. None of this is on me. The abuse, the retaliation, the social isolation, the random fits of stress-induced crying. That’s on you, Hofstra.
President Rabinowitz has no idea how jarring it was to be looked in the face by the president of an institution my family ultimately sold their home to afford to send me to as they suggest that my activism is all some type of act.
There are no words that fully describe how horrifying it was for him to imply that, after all of the compounded racist, sexist micro- and macro-aggressions I have been subjected to, I have the time and the energy to pull together some type of mysterious master plan to make him look like the “bad guy,” for him to suggest that I get something out of him being the “bad guy.”
President Rabinowitz has no idea what it is like to be chased out of your chosen field of study because of the pervasiveness of racism and misogyny within that department, to then report these experiences to a dean of that college and be told that one of the professors who made you feel so vulnerable and inadequate is going to be promoted rather than disciplined and to now anxiously await a meeting with Community Standards because my social media post accusing a professor of racism garnered more attention than my social media posts about experiencing racism.
And honestly, I don’t want President Rabinowitz to understand it. I do not want him to hurt the way that I do, for him to be as exhausted as I am, for him to deny himself of being his most raw and authentic self. I do not need him to get it. I do not need him to feel what I feel.
I just need him to do his job and to finally remove a sculpture immortalizing a man who raped enslaved women who looked just like me; who wanted bodies that looked like mine given to science to be cut, poked and prodded; who owned over 600 people who looked like me, my father, my brother, my uncles, my aunts, my cousins, my closest friends and his students and coworkers.
I need Hofstra University to do what it does best – the absolute bare minimum to guarantee that students of color do not have to be re-traumatized every time they want a coffee from Starbucks; unseasoned, faux Mexican food for lunch; or to get to a class where their professor freely uses the words “negro” and “nigger.” Especially since we know that they will never do anything to address our other complaints.
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