By Reese Remington, contributing writer
Farmington, ME – In a country where the Kyle Rittenhouse’s run free, Black people march for their lives, and a new culture is emerging where America’s inequalities are finally being highlighted for what they are, there lies a small campus amongst it all – the University of Maine at Farmington.
What does a small school like UMF have anything to do with this? Seemingly nothing, and yet everything. Like every university in America, it is a small piece of a much larger pie.
Similar to other minorities on campus, the beginning of the year looked different for me compared to my white peers. Yes, the first-day jitters are the same, followed by a silent prayer that I have a great semester. That my professors understand me, and I make some friends. However, I understood the risks that come with attending a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). This means also hoping that there are other like-minded minorities on campus, nothing racist happens towards me, and make peace with the microaggressions that will inevitably happen.
On campus, everywhere you turn there’s some kind of incident happening against minority students. Though I suppose we should be grateful that there isn’t any ‘KKK’ type of racism taking place here, the microaggressions and tone-deafness run rampant. In my first week, I heard students saying the N-word in a song. Later on in the semester, I was accused of stealing; like other minorities on campus who have been accused of crimes that they didn’t commit. There have been too many microaggressions to count – from comments about my hair, the way I present myself, down to interactions with other students. I have simultaneously been used as the Black spokesperson in my class while also being encouraged to use ’empathy’ and ‘compassion’ when responding to racist discussion posts. On campus, you either love or hate that I am ‘opinionated’ and always have something to say. But if Black people don’t speak up against racism, who will? My classmates, professors, and community members have shown that they won’t. Unless of course, it’s in the form of an Instagram story so everyone knows that they aren’t racist – outwardly at least.
This isn’t to say that UMF isn’t inclusive. It is – to an extent. UMF prides itself on being a strong LGBTQ+ friendly campus, striving to include everyone on campus. Though the tone-deafness outshines the efforts being made. UMF refers to their LGBTQ+ students as the minorities and diversity on campus. To be frank, when the campus is predominantly LGBTQ+, it is no longer a minority. The minorities on campus are the Black and POC students.
If you look around you, the tone-deafness is everywhere – though only if you want to see it. It’s in the buildings where they put posters of how “we appreciate our UMF students and the DIVERSITY they bring to campus” in all rainbow lettering for the LGBTQ+ community. They use the Black power fists for club posters without a single Black member in the club. It’s in the way they handle racist incidents privately and put other incidents [with white students] in a campus email. Don’t minority students deserve to know what’s going on around campus? And it’s especially in the way the school handled the ‘Ed situation’, yet lacks that same passion when it comes to the real minorities on campus.
However, times are changing. It’s been a year and a half since the BLM marches took place and we as a community decided it was time to rise and do better. For ourselves, and our underrepresented minorities in our community. UMF now has a Black Student Union for the first time in history. While other clubs have been up and running for years, the BSU has just begun. Even when established, it wasn’t without questioning whether white students could join and what would happen if there was racism in the club. Anything minority students have done or created on campus has been met with resistance, but this doesn’t stop us. Minority students are creating a more inclusive and safer community for future minorities on this campus.
So, where do we as a school go from here? First, you show up. Show up for your minority peers by calling out racism and microaggressions on campus – beyond posting a simple Instagram story. Forgive me for not expressing gratitude to those that do the bare minimum. As minorities strive to change the racist culture that still runs strong in America, we no longer accept the low-level work that is being done to ease any white guilt. Or at least I won’t. I would say most importantly, show up by educating yourself; Black people are not your Black encyclopedia, every Black experience on this campus is unique. We are not all the same.
Second, advocate. Advocate for more classes that properly teach the history of minorities in America. Advocate for Black and POC voices on campus. We need more minorities in leadership roles. From professors and within the administration, down to leadership roles in the clubs, sports, and elected positions among the campus. The representation we have on campus now – is only a start and not nearly enough. We cannot advertise ourselves as an inclusive school for minorities and then miss the mark when it comes to being inclusive.
Lastly, realize that this change doesn’t happen with just the minorities on campus pushing for it. This isn’t a quick fix situation, it takes time to break down a system that then needs to be rebuilt so that real change can occur. It may not happen overnight, but as a campus, we can do better. Know when to speak up for your classmates, and when to sit back and listen to them. Understand that in striving to be an inclusive campus, UMF has left a part of their own in the shadows: minorities on campus.