Africana Studies responds to Ferguson Opinion Article

By Director Dr. Scott Finnie, EWU Africana Studies Program

On behalf of the Africana Education Program, I am writing to express the deep concern and distress I share with my esteemed faculty and students regarding the “Protests in Missouri unfair to local businesses,” piece written by Tanner Streicher in the Oct. 15 campus newspaper. The printing of this piece and subsequent campus-wide distribution of it does nothing to contribute to Eastern’s goals of developing an inclusive and welcoming environment for students and faculty of color. Furthermore, allowing this blatantly misinformed attack on African Americans at a primarily white institution such as EWU intensifies feelings of isolation and creates a hostile environment for our black students, staff, faculty and administration.

I urge you to make every effort to avoid printing and promoting statements that attack historically oppressed groups on campus and ensure that all pieces included in The Easterner answer to the ethical and professional standards for a campus newspaper at a comprehensive, regional institution. The murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, does not stand alone as an isolated incident but rather comes on the heels of more than 400 years of oppression and brutalization of people of African heritage in America. About 150 years after emancipation from slavery and five decades after the civil rights movement, we still don’t have to look far to see inequities and injustices perpetrated on people of African heritage here in the United States. For example, about two African Americans are shot by police weekly, and black males between 15 and 19 years of age are 21 times more likely to be shot by a white police officer than white males of the same age.  Black mothers are burying their teenage children due to racially biased shootings with alarming frequency, in fact the same frequency with which black families were burying their men during the lynching period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries of our nation’s history.

Tanner Streicher’s writing comes at a time when African American families are rightfully concerned about injustice. In addition to shamefully devaluing black life by trivializing the murder of Michael Brown and Vonderrit Meyers, Streicher makes absurd statements such as, “In reality, they [African Americans] are treated the same – or even better in most cases – as white Americans,” and goes on to claim that it is silly that “African Americans around the U.S. believe they’re being oppressed and are being treated poorly compared to white people.” How is this level of miseducation tolerable, much less printable, on a college campus in 2014?

We have a moral obligation to protect the mental and physical health and safety of our entire campus community, and this obligation combines with our duty as an educational institution to ensure that we require a curricular corrective to prevent future incidents of promoting ignorance and misinformed propaganda. As stated in the Africana Education Program’s mission, we exist to prepare students as broadly educated critical thinkers who are prepared to engage as citizens in a culturally diverse world. We believe this type of education is necessary not only for Africana minors or race and culture studies majors, but for every EWU student who enters our campus. We urge all who hold an official capacity at The Easterner to avail themselves of the opportunity to take a class such as Introduction to Race and Culture Studies (RCST 101), Introduction to Africana Studies (AAST 101) or Race, Power and Privilege (RCST 202). We believe that a deeper understanding and awareness of the history, philosophy and sociological conditions of African Americans would equip your newspaper staff with the necessary tools to understand challenging topics through a historically objective lens while creating meaningful discourse within a climate of compassion rather than fear.

We appreciate your recent letter acknowledging an error in editorial judgment and hope you will keep us updated on how you intend to follow through with providing the proper training for your staff which will prevent attacks on our community from being printed in The Easterner in the future. We look forward to your response.