The Task force on White Supremacy: Rice should do more
The Task Force on Slavery, Segregation and Racial Injustice should contemplate its meaningfulness to our campus beyond being another public relations moment.
There has been a lot of buzz on the task force without a lot of understanding on what it will actually produce. As the task force establishes what it will set out to accomplish, I encourage all those partaking to consider if or how it will enhance the experiences of students in the present. The experiences of Black students at Rice shouldn’t be capitalized on to make our institution appear more progressive and inclusive than it is. The history is important, but we cannot change the experiences of former Black students. Yet we do wield the power to improve the experience of students who are here now.
Slavery, segregation and racial injustice do not exist without white supremacy. The lingering effects of these institutions and issues are results of white supremacy. The exclusion minority students feel on this campus is a result of white supremacy. So call it what it is. The term “white supremacy” cannot be taboo if we want to truly reconcile the effects it has left us with. Black students have an experience that is different from non-Black students. That was true about 50 years ago when the first Black students graduated from Rice and still holds true today. Students from every background have a shared responsibility to make everyone feel included at Rice and actively work against the effects of white supremacy.
The history of transgressions on Black students by the university and its students should not be suppressed. Our history is rooted in a school charter that originally excluded Black students from our campus and is marked with blackface, school-sponsored Ku Klux Klan chapters and derogatory labeling of Black students. Black students frequently face transgressions that are minimized to being labeled as “microaggressions” when the only thing micro about them is the effects on the perpetrators. The racist actions of our past are a part of the history of this university, but one day the everyday experiences of current Black students who struggle to make 6100 Main St. their home will also become history.
If we want to come up with long-lasting solutions, we need to stop putting Band-Aids on gashes. As William Edmond, assistant director of multicultural affairs and a resident associate at Sid Richardson College, puts it: “This task force is an academic response to a non-academic issue.” Starting a task force on the history of the issue does not remedy the apathy students have internalized within themselves towards the experience of Black students, grow the representation of Black faculty on campus, stop the use of the N-word on campus by non-Black students or relocate Black students from the basement of the Ley Student Center into a more comfortable and specified space. Starting a task force on the history of the issue does not remediate the fact that only 7 percent of the class of 2023 is Black students, despite the university’s claims of increasing diversity on campus with the Rice Investment.
Why do we need to use a task force to finally justify bringing Black public speakers on campus? Why is it that anytime we have to address issues of race on campus, it is the responsibility of those being transgressed to come up with solutions? The autonomous approach to solving the issues faced by Black members of the Rice community encouraged by the administration is dangerous. Black students, staff and faculty have academic and occupational responsibilities that we are primarily judged upon. We are rarely recognized or compensated for the additional work that we have to do to minimize the Black tax that those that follow in our footsteps will one day face. If you want to solve these issues, hire people that will be paid to complete this work and accept voluntary contributions as they come.
On the extensive list of what this Black student needs, an education on how racism is ingrained in our institution’s history is not on the first page. The solutions are in the future, not history. Rice University is ill-advised to attempt to use a task force to solve the most troubling aspect of our nation’s creation and history. If we want to really create a better tomorrow, we can start by addressing what we are faced with today. This means increased Black representation in our faculty, increased resources for recruitment efforts in predominantly Black high schools and more programming centered on enhancing the experience for minority students, among other efforts. My opinion is not the only one and it is important to continue to hear from other Black students if we want comprehensive solutions.
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In January, the Rice Board of Trustees announced plans to move the Founder’s memorial to another area of the academic quad as part of a whole redesign, adding additional context of his “entanglement” with slavery. This comes despite continual calls from the student body to not have the enslaver displayed in the quad regardless of the context provided. It would be just for these calls to action and the majority of the Task Force Committee who voted to not keep it there that the Board of Trustees decide to not keep the memorial prominently displayed in the quad at all.