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On Wednesday, Nov. 4, President Schill sent a post-election email to the university community. In it, he wrote: “For what it is worth, I have faith in both the virtue and resilience of our democratic system. On the whole, it has served our country well, albeit imperfectly, for nearly 250 years.” This kind of rhetoric is disappointing and dangerous because it is filtered through a revisionist history that perpetuates white supremacy. That is, it ignores all the ways democracy has been used to oppress.
Democracy in the United States upheld slavery and allowed Jim Crow politics to disenfranchise Black Americans; many of these structures are still in place today. U.S. democracy resulted in the genocide of American Indigenous peoples through forced relocation like the Indian Removal Act and Indian Residential Schools. U.S. democracy forcibly interned Japanese Americans and dropped atomic bombs on Japanese civilians. U.S. democracy perpetuates imperialism and militarism through violent acts, like the endless wars in the Middle East and violent philosophies, like American exceptionalism. All the while, participation in democracy is not open to all who live in the U.S., such as citizens in U.S. territories, permanent residents, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people as well as those declared mentally unfit. These, among countless other examples, are more than imperfections: They are acts of violence that had and continue to have material consequences on people’s lives. And this violence is built into our systems and institutions.
After UO declared its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the wake of social unrest following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among others, it is unacceptable for the university president to ignore the atrocities in our history and paint a rosy picture of liberal democracy in its place. Furthermore, the university president should not discount the important and recognized role of protest by any means against violent systems and institutions by inappropriately warning students to “be careful about how you express your feelings.” True commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice demands the hard work of learning and unlearning — and that begins with acknowledging the full truth of our history and our present. White supremacy is built into all levels of contemporary American life, so it is essential to identify where oppression exists and is perpetuated and to call it out.
SOJC Graduate Student Diversity Task Force
The SOJC Grad Student Diversity Task Force is a collective of graduate students working to advance antiracism and inclusivity in academic institutions.