Op-Ed: A Message on Diversity and Race Relations from Kendal Santiago

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Photo courtesy of Kendal Santiago

Kendal Santiago, Guest Writer

If you read the headline and thought, “Who the heck is Kendal Santiago?” let me introduce myself. I’m a fifth-year senior here at Utica College. As a freshman, I joined the Black Student Union (BSU) and this influenced me to get more involved. During my time here, I have been a programming intern for the Womyn’s Resource Center, vice president of Student Government Association (SGA) and BSU, written for The Tangerine and had a radio show at WPNR amongst other things. I have been heavily involved, and with doing so, I have blossomed into the woman I am today. Now that you know a little more about me, I want to address a topic that has become very popular at UC — diversity and race relations. Though it is a hard pill to swallow, it’s safe to say that our campus somewhat reflects the current racial climate of Trump’s America. From racist and homophobic graffiti on the walls of Bell Hall, to the infamous “It’s OK to be White” flyers that circulated on campus, to one of our very own white students chucking racial slurs at two black students. We’ve all heard the rumors.

Although these incidents happened, it is not a reflection of everything and everyone at Utica College. Still, it is a reality check that lets us know Utica College is not perfect. We are struggling to tackle what it means to be a diverse campus with healthy, happy relationships amongst all students, faculty, staff and administration.

As I bid farewell to a place that has become my home away from home, I’d like to leave behind some tips and ideas to create a better, more-loving environment in the years to come.

First, I want to encourage my peers to utilize their power here. Without you, there would be no Utica College. If at any time you feel there is an injustice being done, something is unfair, a policy is too harsh, whatever the case may be, speak up for yourself and the people around you. There may be times when you have to stand alone, but stand up nonetheless. Get involved and utilize your voice. I promise you, it counts. If you don’t believe me, just ask me about the policies that I single-handedly got the college to reconsider. Imagine what could be changed if we come together! There is power in every individual’s voice. Once you get over the thought that there isn’t, you too can make your impact.

I also want to encourage faculty and administration to make students of color part of all discussions, not only discussions surrounding diversity and racism. Yes, we are passionate about these things, but we are also intellectual individuals who have thoughts and ideas to share on a variety of topics.

To the many, many organizations on campus, practice being unified. Practice being innovative. Practice being supportive of one another. Predominantly white organizations and predominantly minority organizations need to come together more often. We seem to be very segregated, living in two totally different worlds. Many of us share common goals, so let’s make them happen together. I hope for more collaboration in the future.

To the faculty of Utica College, I encourage you to take on more roles as allies to students, specifically organizations fighting for a cause. I was recently asked, “Why don’t you come to us?” My response to that is, why don’t you? We cannot know who our allies are if you do not make yourself known. Come to an event, recommend events to your students, offer a piece of advice. The word “ally” is a noun, but it is also a verb.

Overall, I’d like Utica College to practice being a proactive campus as opposed to a reactive once. We tend to only come together during times of hardship and trauma. Be prepared for the possibilities before they arrive. Perhaps by using this method, we can avoid incidents from ever occurring. Of course, no college campus is perfect and there will be moments of shock and confusion, but we should strive to be the best we can be at all times.

I also want to encourage professors to incorporate “uncomfortable” topics into classroom discussions. If you are not making your students uncomfortable, you are not challenging them. Don’t be afraid to discuss racism, sexism, etc. And please — for the life of me — do not rely on underrepresented students to lead the conversations. Educate yourself on these topics and you will be able to offer more in the conversation.

Of course, I cannot sign off without leaving some advice to Campus Safety. The infamous incident on March 1 has further complicated the relationship between Campus Safety and students of color, regardless of the investigation outcome. I believe the relationship with students and “campo,” as we like to call them, is a reflection of the relationship between police officers and minorities nationwide. I believe both students and campo generalize each other, and where there is generalization there is discrimination and mistrust.

Campus Safety, please let go of past incidents and stop expecting the worst from students of color and minority organizations. Like you, we want a safe environment. Do not let a few naughty students change your perception of us all. Students, do not be hostile with officers who are simply doing their job. Not everyone has ill intentions and some officers are very friendly — shoutout to Bob and Charlie!

Lastly, I encourage you to take into account all that I have said in this article. I am not here to brag about what I’ve done, as I did not do these things for recognition. I am not here to be judgemental, as I too have made mistakes throughout my journey here. I’m here to make observations and give advice. I hope to someday return as an alumna and see a loving, unified community.

Goodbye, Utica College.

Have an opinion? Contact us at tanger@utica.edu to learn how you can write an op-ed that could be featured in The Tangerine.


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