“At Emporia State University, there is no place for hate, intolerance and racism. This is a place for acceptance, love and respect.”
Thunderous applause followed President Allison Garrett’s message as people were so happy to finally have a leader say something stronger than “There were very fine people on both sides.”
This message was splashed across Emporia State’s social media, in bold colored gold, shortly after President Garrett said this during the general assembly.
And ESU’s public relations team was so busy patting themselves on the back for a job well done that nobody stopped and asked themselves; should we really be celebrating this?
While I am glad that President Garrett thought that the fascist white supremacists with burning torches yelling Nazi slogans while attacking counter protestors was an important enough topic to bring up during the general assembly, she spoke about the issue for less than a minute.
That’s right. Less than a single minute.
But that didn’t stop ESU’s PR team from covering their social media with the quote in an effort to make it something more than it was.
They wanted the public to believe that they should be proud of Garrett.
They wanted the public to believe that Garrett was making a strong, bold statement worthy of praise.
But standing there and listening to it?
As a student, I felt let down.
I don’t feel any safer on campus because of President Garrett’s so called “noteworthy” statement.
In fact, I feel less assured than I did before.
At least before, I could imagine what President Garrett would say to come to our defense. I could hope that she would come in swinging the minute Nazis stepped on ESU’s soil.
But now that I know what she’s willing to say, I feel less hopeful than I ever did before.
It just wasn’t good enough.
This speech should have been a time to inspire and educate. Kansas has led the nation in standing up to racism and hate.
In the past, Kansas was founded on the eve of the American Civil War as a free state.
Garrett’s statement was unworthy as an official statement of a president from a Kansas university. Especially considering that Kansas was founded, in a historical move, as a free state.
Emporia’s own William Allen White was a man before his time, fighting the Klan in the 1920s. He would have been ashamed of the weakness that came from Garrett’s mouth.
And whether we like it or not, the truth of the matter is that white supremacists are already here on ESU’s campus.
The time for small, short, political cookie cutter responses that promote ‘diversity’ and other buzzwords has passed.
The time has come for strong statements. The time has come for action.
Real leaders tell the truth, not what the public wants to hear and what is easy to say.
It’s easy to say, “Racism is bad and we don’t accept it here.”
It is far harder to say, “Racism is perpetuated here systemically, even here and I know that students don’t always feel safe here on campus. I’d like to change that. It isn’t going to be easy, and sacrifices have to be made, but I know we can do it together.”
ESU isn’t a utopia without racism and we shouldn’t act like it is. We can’t stuff the problems into the deep dark corners of ESU and pretend they don’t exist.
The only way to fix racism is to talk about the problems head on, to listen to the perspectives different than the ones we have and to work on fixing our system.
So President Garrett, if you really want to assure students that you’re on our team, talk to us like adults, cut the buzzwords and stop trying to erase everyone’s white guilt with your weak words. Make this time different. Make this time mean something.