Section: Opinion

Apathy is misstep on the path to equality

By Zahida Sherman Ewoodzie

Over the last few weeks, I’ve spoken to people of all racial backgrounds about the killings, and though we represent many opinions, the one thing we all agree on is that something isn’t quite right here.

When inequality hits you in the face, like it has for many of us with the recent slayings of Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Eric Garner (among so many other unarmed black people in U.S. history), it can be debilitating. But it’s also an opportunity for you to confront your own privilege, sense of powerlessness or apathy. The challenging part is not giving in to the sense of being overwhelmed, not to let these events take you into the abyss of feeling that things will never change.

Like our justice system, Kenyon is not perfect. And if you thought it was when you were a prospective student, I’m sure you’ve already discovered some of its deep-rooted flaws.  Kenyon is an institution, and unfortunately, by design, institutions change at a glacial pace.  By the time you graduate, Kenyon will likely reform just a handful of policies to make the institution more equitable and just for students. As Kenyon and Ferguson remind us, in the face of the institutional progress we’ve made, we still have much more work ahead of us.

This probably isn’t what you want to hear. And with our increasing awareness (thanks, social media!) of our nation’s dehumanization of black life, I’m sure that you want our institutions, like our criminal justice system, to be reformed immediately. I’m with you.

At last night’s “Civil Rights and the Police” panel, many students raised the question, “What can I do to help?” As a proud Seattleite, I have to admit that protesting is part of my DNA. But there are multiple ways to protest, whether on a personal or institutional level. Some people’s method of choice is to rally with others who feel outraged, to listen to people’s stories of injustice, to scream and make their voices heard and to learn, from activists, the concrete steps they can take to better their communities. Others prefer to donate to groups who have made it their sole cause to work within our legal system to ensure that justice is served to all of us. Others fight inequality in their profession.

I have worked at Kenyon to promote College access to groups who have been historically excluded from the Hill and now work to retain those students. My husband, Visiting Instructor of Sociology Joseph Ewoodzie, and other faculty push students to reconcile their own biases and complicity in racism so that they will enact change in their communities. Kenyon students have shared their stories of difference with members of the Board of Trustees to guarantee that policies in housing, internships and financial aid don’t restrict poorer students from reaping Kenyon’s full benefits. These are all drops in an enormous bucket, but it’s something.

There is no single correct method of activism, but what isn’t acceptable is remaining silent. Professor of Psychology Irene López pointed out at last night’s panel that when people of color restrain our outrage over racism, it’s damaging to our physical health. With our nation becoming more racially diverse and our institutions changing gradually, it’s easy to feel pessimistic that little will change. But we owe it to ourselves and to the brave generations before us to speak out and demand better. Whether it’s cops who are poorly trained or micro-aggressions that kill us slowly, racism is killing us.

Zahida Sherman Ewoodzie is the assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Contact her at shermanz@kenyon.edu

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