Finding Ways to Take a Stand

It was some time last Monday, late in the evening, when I met up with Gaby in the Fondren Library to make the counter flyers. Throughout the entire day I couldn’t shake what I had seen earlier. That afternoon, Jessica Jancose and I were sitting in the Women & LGBT Center, and she asked if I’d seen the Anti-Black flyer. When she showed me a picture of it on her phone, I was in disbelief, disgusted and upset that something like that was going around. At the same time I wasn’t surprised, given the racist history of the SMU student body. In 2015 a sorority girl posted anonymously on a website, listing reasons why black girls wouldn’t be selected if they rushed a historically white sorority. And, a fraternity decided to throw a themed party, encouraging attendees to ‘bring out their inner thug.’ Promotional materials for the party included pictures of a black rapper and a black woman in a provocative position.

Jessica also shared the picture in a GroupMe chat that we were in and encouraged everyone to report the flyer if they saw it on campus. After class, I posted in the GroupMe that I planned on creating a counter flyer that same night. I asked if anyone wanted to help, and Gaby posted in the chat that she was already in the library making one. So, I headed over after walking a friend back to their dorm because they said they felt unsafe walking back alone. The campus environment has grown intense and precarious, particularly following the election of Donald Trump.

Indeed, harassment of minority students has increased since the election. A female student wore a Mexican soccer jersey to class the day following the election and was told to go back to her country. Another student was spit on while leaving their apartment to go to class. On top of that, the Anti-Black flyers showed up in multiple buildings on campus. I simply felt that I had to do something—for the students who felt fearful, hurt, anxious, and hated—to show that not everyone on this campus supports the ideology represented in those flyers.

So once I finally got to the library, Gaby and I decided that we wanted to make a positive flyer that promoted diversity. We also wanted to back up our statements using research studies. The ‘data’ presented to support the statements of the Anti-Black flyers was old, specious, and propagandistic; this sort of thing, I’ve learned in my Human Sexuality and History of Sex in America classes, has long been used largely by white men to ensure their superior status to black men, particularly in an effort to keep white women for themselves.

But we wanted to use actual research to support statements that promoted diversity, acceptance, and truth. To show that the racist ideology of the flyers is wrong on all counts, and more importantly to create a public voice of support, encouragement, and solidarity for all students and minority students in particular. Gaby designed the flyer, making sure to avoid politicized language, and we kept it short and sweet. Gaby also wanted the flyers to be printed in color, to contrast with the stark, polarizing black and white of the Anti-Black flyer.

Printed flyers in hand, we went to see Val Erwin, the student organization advisor in the Women & LGBT Center. First, we wanted her opinion of the counter flyer, and we asked about the school regulations regarding the posting of flyers on campus. She informed us that as long as we posted them in locations that do not require approval then it would be okay.

Next we set off to post the flyers. We asked Karen Guan, who was also in the library, if she wanted to help. The three of us went around to various buildings (Hyer, Dedman Life Science, Fondren Science, and Dallas Hall) and put them on the bulletin boards. We also decided to ask the women on the executive board of WIN if they would help to distribute the flyers in their dorms, and they (Jessica Jancose, Julia Cantú, Nusaiba Mizan, and one other) were happy to do so.

Since then, there’s been positive feedback on the flyers from the SMU community and beyond. Other positive flyers have also shown up around campus. I’ve seen one that was taped around Fondren Library, and on pillars and street poles. Another one has been taped on bathroom stall doors. All of these speak of acceptance, community, and unity.

But positivity does not make exciting news. The Anti-Black flyers have received much more media attention, so much so that many might overlook the very real aspect of SMU’s culture that is positive and accepting. I do think that among the student community, people are doing what they can to help change the SMU culture. There are various forms and levels of activism, of which many students take part. Posting flyers is just one form. What’s clear, though, is that every little bit counts—even something as simple as standing up and saying something when something happens in person can make a big difference. In fact, it can often make the biggest difference of them all.

It is important to take some sort of action, no matter how big or small, to show that we will not stand by and let ignorance and discrimination reign. We are and must be each other’s allies and support, and we must embrace people of all identities in all areas: race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sex, gender expression, religion, ability, citizenship, age, class, and more. I am Asian, female, lesbian, and a 1st generation SMU student. I’m proud to be able to declare my identity openly, and so should every other student on this campus.

This article was written by Taylor Souryachak. Click here to see more of Taylor’s work.