Staff editorial: Students must embrace diversity, condemn intolerance

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Many students awoke yesterday morning to find “It’s okay to be white” signs taped onto on-campus buildings. With other campuses across the nation experiencing similar occurrences, the aim of the fliers was clearly to incite outrage and provoke a response.

Though any response risks energizing these provocateurs, the peddling of hatred anywhere warrants forceful condemnation.

Crucially, however, even the fiercest denunciations often fail to get at the root of why the hanging up of these signs, and similar acts, are harmful to both students of color and the student body as a whole. In combating these efforts to sow division, we at Tulane must also answer the questions of those on whom the effect of these signs may be lost.

To these students, the declaration “It’s okay to be white” may appear to be simply a demonstration of ignorance or even an entirely benign, inoffensive assertion. By stating “It’s okay to be white,” however, the signs across campus revealed an underlying assumption: whiteness, in the view of those who put up these signs, is under attack. By placing these posters on the homecoming windows of multicultural organizations, they betrayed another telling assumption — a worldview that regards diversity as its antagonist.

Importantly, of course, Tulane University, even with its recent efforts to diversify, is far from a paragon of multiculturalism. Students of color constituted only 15.6 percent of the 2017 graduating class, despite being nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population in 2016. Minorities on campus, attending an institution named after a man who fought to deny them entry, continually struggle with this reality, whether in the classroom or in their social lives.

For many of these students, organizations such as the Tulane Black Student Union, Generating Excellence Now and Tomorrow in Education (GENTE) and the Indian Association of Tulane University provide a respite, albeit temporary, from their more permanent sense of marginalization. Those who posted these fliers early yesterday morning aimed to remove this security. Dressed in both Halloween costumes and cowardice, they adopted a false sense of victimhood. To them and those who share their sentiments, their status in society is threatened by the ascendancy of diversity.

As students of color and other marginalized groups have in recent years established groups and demarcated spaces in which to share their experiences, these initiatives have faced resistance and scrutiny. An inconvenient truth we must recognize, however, is that the experiences of students of color are far removed from those of white students on our campus. This is no admonition of white students, but it is nevertheless a truth which all must acknowledge, not avoid. Shaped by a tragic past and an imperfect present, this is something we as a university community must confront.

Diversity and acceptance are not zero-sum games. Each of us benefits when students of all backgrounds, regardless of their race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status, feel not only safe but welcome on our campus. With one voice, then, we must both uplift the most marginalized among us and rebuke those who would silence them.

Staff Editorials are written weekly by members of the Tulane Hullabaloo Board and approved by the full Board by a 2/3 majority vote.