This past week has evoked interesting conversations about the expectations of St. John’s faculty and students in the midst of a global pandemic and the rise of race consciousness in predominantly white spaces.
As professors gear up for invigorating conversations about anti-racism and the way racism affects students of color in a predominantly white institution, an adjunct instructor in the History department is under investigation by the University after allegedly asking students to weigh the pros and cons of slavery in his classroom.
In a time where change is most needed, conversations that abstractly address tragedies and issues by “playing devil’s advocate” are ones that end up distracting from the major goal of inclusivity. Too many people still think it is OK for it to be discussed in a matter of debate rather than in action toward ending it. It definitely raises a question about how professors are expected to approach conversations regarding race, especially when there is an ongoing visible consciousness about the grievances of marginalized groups everywhere.
The University appears to have recognized the need for activism and is hosting bi-weekly sessions on “Becoming Agents of Change,” and anticipating discussion of responsible leadership in the upcoming event, “Decolonizing Leadership.”
St. John’s is facing another major problem that also touches on the expectations of both professors and students: too many students are not taking the COVID-19 safety procedures seriously and subsequent tensions have arisen on campus not only as a result of social issues but also as a result of health concerns. Students can often be seen with masks under their noses, or even sitting in DAC without a mask. This week Co-Opinion editor Sara Rodia expressed her views on the absurdity of neglecting proper protocol – in her view, and ours, wearing a mask is necessary to keep everyone on campus safe.
Organizations and entities do appear to be taking safety protocols on campus seriously, including religious organizations that expect to hold gatherings of students on campus. News editor Alicia Venter reported on the St. Thomas More Church’s plans for mass and social gatherings, as well as the plans of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and the Jewish Student Association (JSA), which all exercise caution within their respective prayer rooms and follow social distancing procedures as carefully as possible.
At the same time, however, the Church will still be open to 92 individuals at a time and the responsibility of cleaning both JSA and MSA’s prayer rooms falls primarily on the students using them. The precautions taken may be presented as a reassuring way of viewing how cautious many communities are being during this pandemic, but it can also be viewed through the lens that there should not be any activities or gatherings held in-person, as long as doing so poses a threat to participants’ health.
So at this time where we are facing two threats to the safety and well-being of students, either from harmful rhetoric in the classroom or the ongoing global pandemic, it is important that we have uncomfortable conversations. We have work to do in order to keep the campus environment both safe and inclusive, and these conversations are the first step in the process.