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I will not beat around the bush; the so-called Listening Session held by the College of Arts and Sciences on Thursday, the one set up to discuss the recent murder attempt made against an Asian-American student on a Bloomington bus, was one of the worst experiences I have ever had during my time at Indiana University.
According to an email from Executive Dean Rick Van Kooten, the event was held to hammer home that “our vibrant intellectual and learning community feel safe and welcome.” In reality, it appeared to serve little tangible purpose other than to give several professors from Indiana University, as well as Van Kooten himself, the chance to monologue about how bad racism is, and just how much they really do hate it. The icing on the cake was how, despite being broadcast on Zoom, the event was neither recorded nor open to the press, almost like they were hoping to sweep it under the rug once everyone had left the room.
One of the most absurd things I heard was one of the panelists talking about taking substantive action against racism — the exact topic I had wanted to hear someone talk about — and then going on to describe an apparently generous donation of $5,000 someone had made to pay for parking passes for Asian-American students.
I felt compelled to speak, to share my true feelings on what I had been hearing, not just today, but for my whole life. I told them that forcing students to attend classes teaching them about systemic racism will achieve nothing, as students will not pay attention to the classes that they are being forced to take. I told them that their suggestions for holding lectures and listening sessions might feel nice to provide, but are ultimately just preaching to a group that was probably not at risk of violently attacking anyone in the first place. I told them about how frustrating it is when I get yet another email from Rick Van Kooten telling me that Indiana University stands with the Asian community, meanwhile attacks like the one last week continue to happen. The panelists treated me like a child, telling me that things are not hopeless, but that they still sympathize.
Following the panel, a swarm of people descended on me to tell me how brave I was, offering suggestions for next steps. They ignored me as I pointed out that their suggestions might improve things many years down the line, but would fail to solve the problems that people are facing today.
But there was one point that I did take to heart. Swimming in an endless sea of platitudes and poor advice, one idea stuck out to me: using the Indiana Daily Student.
So here I am, writing this letter, with my only goal being to say what Rick Van Kooten’s emails cannot.
Students, faculty and anyone who has ever felt like they have been victimized: we are on our own.
This is not to say that there is nothing we can do and that we might as well give up, even if that is what the panelists at the Listening Session took away from my frustrations. It is the exact opposite. I am saying that now is the time to step up.
Indiana University will do what Indiana University can do. They will hire a diverse staff that they will ultimately ignore, require diversity classes that students will not pay attention to, and create workshops on allyship that no one will attend. In other words, they will do their best. Maybe someday these systemic changes will chip away at discrimination until we live in a world where people of all creeds and colors hold hands and skip onto campus together every morning, but that day is a long way away.
Until that happens, it is up to all of us to make do. It is up to us to protect one another, to do the job that campus security and the Bloomington police cannot. It is up to us to not tolerate any form of discrimination, whether it comes from ignorant students, out-of-touch teachers or violent bus-riders. It is up to us to create the Bloomington that we deserve, the one that we have always deserved.
It is up to us to stand up and fight back.
IU student and member of the Asian-American community