Students rally against labels, stereotypes

Students rally against labels, stereotypes

In response to multiple racist incidents that have occurred on campus in recent years, students gathered in the Ferguson Center lobby Friday in an effort to combat stereotyping among students and promote a more inclusive and respectful atmosphere on campus.

At the event named “I Am Not" Friday Jan. 20, students held up signs with words that have been used to insult and stereotype them and walked to the center of the Ferguson food court where they stood silently for 30 minutes.

Teryn Shipman, a junior majoring in political science, helped organize the event and said the purpose of this demonstration was to allow students to show that they are not the slurs, insults or stereotypes others have placed upon them.

“We made the signs just so people could see the things that people have been labeled and we plan to follow this up with an ‘I Am’ series, so this is just the beginning of several powerful student movements here on campus,” Shipman said. 

This demonstration comes in the aftermath of a UA student posting a video of herself using racial slurs and making disparaging comments about people of other races. However, the event was not directly in response to the video, Shipman said. Rather, it was in response to the culmination of racist incidents that have occurred on campus over recent years, especially with multiple students being removed from the University for using racially offensive language. In 2014, another UA student posted on social media using a racial slur lauding the lack of racial diversity in her Greek organization. She was removed from the University's chapter. 

“As a lot of students know, this happens all the time on our campus and more than just black students are affected by these types of things that are said on campus,” Shipman said. “All students have been hurt and labeled and had something said to them that made them feel uncomfortable and so we just wanted to speak on that. Allow people to speak their truth and share our stories and our experiences in a way that lets others know that they’re not alone."

Salome Weathers, a senior majoring in chemistry, said she hopes these student movements will help to dispel some of the misconceptions society places on people of color.

“Often times, black people are labeled as something that they are not,” Weathers said. “I’ve heard plenty of times from other people that they think I’m their excuse to be racist or they use me to say ‘Oh I have a black friend’ as an excuse to say the n-word and that’s not okay.”

Emerald Vaughn, a senior majoring in psychology, said she helped organize the event in support of her friends that have been labeled with disparaging words and stereotypes.

"I have friends that have told me their stories of being labeled and stereotyped. I’ve been in classes here where people of different races have been defined with stereotypes by other students and seen racist behavior and rhetoric,” Vaughn said. “People should know that we are not these things we are being called. We’re so much more.”

The sentiment behind this protests mirrors others held in recent years. In 2016, students stood in front of the Rose Administration Building after dropping off a list of demands to improve the cultural atmosphere on campus. 

“We want the administration to actually acknowledge that racism exists on campus," said Maiya Gaspard, a sophomore majoring in general health studies and one of the students who stood in front of Rose. "We want for people to call it what it is, so we can start change."

In fall 2017, the University named Christine Taylor the vice president and associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion after a year-long search. Until fall 2016, the University was the only school in the SEC without an office of diversity.

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