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Worlds Apart: SLU Through the Eyes of the Weary

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As a new hire at my job, it is part of my training to shadow at least two tours given by my peers. As I step into a golf cart to shadow my first tour, I am dumbfounded at the enthusiasm with which the tour guide sells Saint Louis University to a prospective student. I hear things like “My residence hall was one of the best experiences I have had on campus,” and “You really feel so welcome as you walk down West Pine, everyone here is so kind!” The most thought-provoking part about this whole situation was the realization that this tour guide was not lying. This was their lived experience of this university. As a Black student on campus, our experiences could not exist in realities further apart. When thinking about my experience in my own residence hall, I recall how, despite having forty different students on my floor, I could never fully relate to the ways in which my floor socialized. I was under the ever-present gaze of whiteness, which made sure to always present itself in the back of my head, reminding me that my margin of error was nearly non-existent. Having two roommates insured that I never had a single moment free. My “I’s” must always be dotted, my “T’s” must always be crossed. The lights were always on, and the camera was always ready.

As a Black student, there are many unspoken pressures that we face on a predominantly white campus. Despite this commonality in a lot of our lives, there are few places for us to go to deal with the constant bombardment of otherness we face on a white campus and in a white world.  Specifically, on SLU’s campus, there is a lack of university-run initiatives aimed at supporting the Black and Brown students that don their billboards, their brochures, and their elevators. In fact, if a Black student were to look for a university initiative specifically tailored to them, they would find one—African American Male Scholars. If they happened to identify as a Black woman, they would find nothing. Their only mode of support would then be to turn to Black faculty and staff. If they bought a magnifying glass big enough, they might be able to find a person of color that works on this campus. What they would also find is that this same employee has 250 other students that depend on them as their means of survival at this university; not to mention that these faculty and staff members also have lives, children, and are most likely already being overworked by the university.  

When SLU is not busy forcing ten staff members to be the support system for an entire population of Black students, they are forcing student organizations to do that work for them. Chartered student organizations are a great way for students on campus to interact with those that have similar interests to them. However, the sole burden of retaining, supporting, and providing opportunities for Black students, while also creating a Black experience within this campus, should not be left to student-run organizations. Student leaders in many different organizations must now try to manage supporting an entire community while still navigating the intricacies of college life. These programs should be supplements to the work the university is already doing. How is it that until this year, the only source for Black History Month activities was a student-run organization? The way in which SLU flaunts its complete disregard for the Black experience on campus is astonishing. However, forcing Black students to create and enact solutions to problems SLU has created or contributed to is nothing new at Saint Louis University.

A school like SLU that sports a $1.02 billion endowment, surely has the room in its budget not only to dedicate money to creating programs aimed at Black students, but also to hire more Black faculty and more Black counselors. A school that claims it is in search of “higher purpose, greater good” ought to take out time to consider the myriad of ways it has continuously failed Black students and the surrounding Black community in that mission. A university that built its legacy upon the backs of literal Black slaves, Black communities (Mill Creek Valley), prison labor (Aramark), and the work of Black athletes can surely figure out how to amend these gross transgressions. How long will a school that claims diversity as one of its chief goals, continue to allow this systematic silencing and indifference toward Black bodies? The truth is, it will continue as long as you let it. Happy Black History Month, y’all.

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Worlds Apart: SLU Through the Eyes of the Weary