The Cross Cultural Center saves lives

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I started my first year of college in a new city and in a new state two weeks after the murder of Michael Brown, Jr.

Because of my status as a Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar, I had the opportunity to meet the staff members of the Cross Cultural Center, as well as other supportive staff members of color, during my first week. I cannot adequately explain the influence that the wonderful staff of the CCC had on my transition to college. If I felt tokenized by my classmates, or was struggling with the pervasiveness of racialized oppression in the world, I knew I could walk into through the doors of the CCC and immediately feel at home.

As my college career progressed, though, I noticed something deeply troubling. Staff member after staff member from the CCC continued to depart. While staff members of color face circumstances similar to those of students of color at a predominantly white institution, staff of color must reckon with white supremacy deliberately and carefully as to not threaten their employment status. As students, we have the privilege of public dissent. Of course, our protest actions could bring disciplinary action against us, but for most of us, we are allowed to say what we want with little long lasting impact on our status at the University. Staff and faculty of color do not have this privilege. The ivory towers of academia and collegiate institutions as a whole prevent staff members from making public statements and protesting unfair, unsafe and oppressive situations. As a result, many important justice-oriented staff members on campus have transitioned to better paying jobs at bigger universities.

While this statement may seem hyperbolic, I must say it anyways because it’s the truth: the staff at the CCC saved my life. During my first two years at SLU, there were many times the weight of systematic oppression overcame me. I felt like I couldn’t stay at SLU, and I felt like there was no place that I could escape from the burden of marginalization. But consistently, staff members like Aleidra Allen showed up and cared for me enough to get me back on the front lines of the fight for liberation. The CCC shows up for students of color and queer students who struggle to live in a society that functions on their disenfranchisement.

The CCC is critical for student success and retention, and yet, the staff turnover rates within that particular department threaten minority student success and retention. In my time at SLU, the CCC has seen two different directors and three different program coordinators. I understand why staff in the CCC leave. Oppression is a deafening room. However, someone needs to take responsibility for this. SLU, this is on us. Every day, through the microaggressions and bureaucratic hurdles, we create and maintain a hostile environment for justice-oriented staff, especially our staff of color. This is unacceptable. We need to do better. The mental health and success of students of color and queer students depends on it.

With the recent departure of two staff members in the CCC, some have questioned the importance of the CCC. In response, I say: If you care about the retention and success of students of color, women students, queer students, trans students, non-binary students, et. al., the CCC must continue to exist and must be better funded. If not, we risk perpetuating the very oppression our Jesuit mission compels us to act against.

To Josh Jones and Aleidra Allen in the CCC, I want to say thank you. Thank you for your support and love—even when you, too, were struggling to handle the reality of white supremacy and police violence in America. I may not tell you this often enough, but I love both of you, and your work saves lives.