In this open letter to her campus colleagues, Marketing and Communications Recruitment Coordinator in UW-Green Bay’s Office of Admissions, Alexandra Ritchie expresses her personal pain over hate, stereotyping and the devastating actions leading to recent marches and protests across the nation.
She, and others, call on the UW-Green Bay campus community to seek understanding, serve as allies, and demand that as a campus, we do better, as Chancellor Alexander has requested from the four-campus community. Ritchie is working with the personnel across campus to compile a list of resources that help educate and motivate.
My first encounter with racism came in the first grade. A group of classmates staged a boycott of chocolate milk during lunches because it was “gross” like the color of my skin. I didn’t even know I was any different. Sure, by first grade those kids may have already been taught their biases from parents or other family members, but they were also born into a society that prioritizes white bodies and demotes ‘otherness’ to second-class. My otherness.
I’m tired of being tired.
Our unfair systems have deemed United States a level playing ground. In reality, Black people have been chained to the starting line, centuries behind the lead. When the shackles came off on Juneteenth we were suddenly supposed to be able to compete? The Civil Rights movement brought about change on paper, but how much change actually occurred in the hearts and minds of those in power? What systems were deconstructed and reconstructed to have us all starting in the same spot?
Systemic racism is hard to break, but it’s even harder to bear. The not-so-funny thing about racism is that the oppressed can’t always make the change; sometimes we can only demand it. After all, what oppressor listens to the oppressed? We need allies. When Black people and other persons of color ask for allies, we aren’t just asking for well-intentioned people to ask how we’re doing. We aren’t asking for people to be colorblind. We aren’t asking for a white body to be a megaphone for our anguish. We aren’t asking you to argue on Facebook with your racist uncle. All these things could help, but we’re really asking for you to educate yourself, embrace our differences, occupy the spaces that we haven’t been permitted in for over 400 years, and go to war destroying those systems that continually put a proverbial knee to our necks. If you aren’t uncomfortable, you’re doing it wrong.
Part of educating yourself is understanding your individual privilege. Privilege shouldn’t be a scary word or insult, and it’s not just for white people. Privilege doesn’t mean that you haven’t fallen on hard times. It’s an honest reflection of things to be grateful for, things that you have no control over that make your life even a fraction easier. Analyzing and accepting privilege is the first step to better understanding what systems you’re benefitting from that marginalized groups may not be. Those working in education are not only tasked with continually evaluating their own biases and privileges, but also imparting the knowledge of past generations onto the next, helping them develop critical thinking skills and inspiring a strong value system. Unfortunately, education itself, especially higher education, can also be a privilege.
So, how do we as a UW-Green Bay community fix that? Well, it starts internally, and it’s not just about not being racist. It’s about being anti-racist. We’re no longer just talking about individuals, we’re looking at the systems. Try need-based scholarships instead of merit-based. Fill courses with real-world applications for all walks of life. Provide access to resources to support all students, no matter their intersectionalities. Take care of the whole student. The whole staff. The whole faculty. Once we’ve established our internal anti-racism reform, we have to continue that trajectory into the rest of our community. And that starts with divesting from partners or companies who don’t hold the same anti-racism values as us. We can’t and won’t tolerate it.
Lord knows I don’t have all the answers, but to me, the goal should never be diversity. Diversity feels like a check box that we have to tick rather than the leveling the playing field. What I’m striving for is inclusion and equity. I want a UW-Green Bay that gives everyone a seat at the table, a voice, and the opportunity to shatter societal limitations and create the community and country that we so rightfully deserve. And we’re well on our way.
From the moment I interviewed at UW-Green Bay, I knew this place was different. The care and tenacity are unmatched. There’s a strong willingness to do what’s right, even if it’s unconventional or goes against what everyone else is doing. Every day I see the inner workings, the strides being taken and the leaders pushing the envelope. This place is unapologetically itself, and that’s just the kind of place to unleash a revolution.
Watch us rise.