By Sojin Shin || Op-Eds Editor
Last Friday morning, the temperature dropped just below 32, and flurries of snow began falling. Wind blew hard, and leaves shook. It felt like the start of winter, and, for the campus, the start of something entirely different.
In this near-freezing weather, faculty and students gathered to form a large circle in front of College Center. Members of administrative board, namely Dean Hazlett and Provost Wesson, were present as well. Not only that, Dan Wagner, the soccer coach who supposedly supported the athletes who wore racist costumes, attended the rally. He even spoke later on, although he left with the words “I won’t let myself get ripped apart” when the students decried him.
After the administrative staff spoke, e-board members of various student organizations (BSU, AAA, ACA, MGL, S.I.S.T.E.R.S, and Impact) voiced their frustration. Individual students also took the microphone and shared personal anecdotes, condemning F&M’s indifference toward struggles that students of color face. Their voices were filled with anger, despair, and most importantly, longing for change. It was a monumental moment in which students spoke out about their discomfort and constant sense of threat that pervaded their lives.
Following the rally, F&M administration was quick to act. President Altmann sent out two separate updates in which students were promised more dialogue and faster, more transparent communication. A campus-wide town hall meeting was held on Tuesday. Even though responses to the meeting were mixed, it was clear that some significant changes, including implementation of diversity education program during orientation, were introduced in this short time span. Numerous talks and meetings followed. Both the Provost and the President made themselves available at CC and their offices to communicate with the students.
However, in this campus-wide movement towards conversation, the athletic department remained silent. While it would be unethical for them to reveal punishments individual students will face, the department’s seeming indifference toward one of F&M’s core values, dialogue, is disconcerting. The department has not made any official statement or apology the way administration did. It did not send a recognition of adverse climate. No representative spoke at the townhall meeting. Even though President Altmann relayed that Student Athlete Leadership Council will attend 2020 NCAA convention, the department themselves remained silent.
And for me, that is the most disappointing aspect of this incident. On one end, I can understand why we should try to view the students’ full humanity. Because, although I cannot believe that the students were completely oblivious to the degrading nature of the costumes, I understand that the students may have not been aware of the magnitude of the damage they might cause. So, perhaps it is possible that these students are “good people,” as coach Wagner so adamantly claimed on that day of the rally. In that case, I feel bad for them, because it seems to indicate a severe lack of mentorship and education.
Yet, the argument that this should be turned into a teachable moment is not so appealing when the athletic department, a community that governs a significant time of these students’ day, shows no willingness to pursue the virtues of education, respect, and dialogue. It’s not like we are asking them to tie down these students to chairs, interrogate them, and live-stream it through Instagram. Rather, what we are calling for is a statement, a recognition, and promises for important changes to be made in the future.
For now, all we are getting is silence, a sickening silence that is exactly what F&M was supposed to fight against. It is no wonder that many students of color, and those who support them, still remain unsatisfied and frustrated.
Sophomore Sojin Shin is the Op-Eds Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.