Fighting for Diversity at SMU and Nationwide

The past few years in American history have been defined by increased racial tensions, police brutality against minorities, and protests against intolerance. One of these protests that sparked major controversy was carried out by San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick when he refused to stand for the national anthem to protest inequality. This type of protest spread quickly with similar demonstrations occurring nationwide, including locations none other than Southern Methodist University. Earlier in the season, the school made national news when a group of students, including five band members, took a knee while the anthem was played before a football game. A divided SMU community was revealed, with some expressing disgust at the students’ actions and others expressing support.

Now that the election is over and Donald Trump has been designated as president-elect, the future is not looking very bright for many people. I had the opportunity to speak with Sydney Clark, one of the five band members who protested in the fall, about her outlook on the progress of diversity both at SMU and nationwide.

Alec Mason: As a person who has fought and still fights for racial equality, what is your reaction to the protests, intolerance, and violence that have spawned from this election cycle?

Sydney Clark: I think the protests on either side are expected. This was a very polarizing election, and tensions are incredibly high.

AM: Do you think a Trump presidency is a danger to race relations and equality?

SC: Yes, I do. Trump is a bigot and was a bigot very openly during his entire campaign. He’s putting people in his cabinet who are members of the Alt-Right and other white supremacist groups. Worst of all is probably his vice president Mike Pence. This is a man who believes that conversion therapy is a valid option for LGBT+ people. It’s not looking too hot for anyone who isn’t a straight, well-off, Christian white man.

AM: In the days following the election, we saw many reactions to Trump’s win here on campus. In particular, the morning of November 9th, many students walking to class came across Sigma Chi’s white sheet banner proclaiming “Make America Great Again.” What did you think of the banner?

SC: I think that everyone has the right to free speech. So even though I hated the sign, there was nothing wrong with it. There was a petition going around on Facebook to have it removed and I spoke out against it because it was essentially against freedom of speech, especially because the sign wasn’t filled with any kind of hate speech. It was only the campaign slogan for the president-elect (even though I know that the slogan is rooted in something deeper). If we wanted to combat the sign, it wasn’t about trying to get it down, we had to counter it.

“I think that everyone has the right to free speech.”

AM: In reaction to Sigma Chi’s banner, places like Meadows and SMU Service House raised their own banners that proclaimed phrases such as Michelle Obama’s “When They Go Low, We Go High.” What emotions did you feel when you came across these new banners?

SC: The first sign was actually my own council’s house, the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC) House. It was a sign that said “We gon’ be alright,” which is a quote from a great Kendrick Lamar song. It wasn’t even a whole day before someone ripped it down and stomped and crumbled it up. It was suggested we put a sign up in solidarity for SMUSH (I’m a resident there), and it was a house effort to put one up the next couple of days. These banners fill me with pride. They say nothing hateful. They don’t even address the election. They just reassure those who feel victimized that we stand in solidarity, and that these are places that are safe for them, and that’s very important for some SMU students to know.

“These banners fill me with pride.”

AM: Many people have fears that the president-elect has sparked a new resurgence of many hate groups, particularly the Alt-Right movement. We even had an incident on campus in which someone from the Alt-Right hung racist fliers around campus. Do you fear that this type of hate may become the new reality for minorities at SMU?

SC: No, I don’t, because this has always been the reality for minorities at SMU. Now, people are just more openly bigots. That’s all this election did: give bigots confidence to be more open. Every single year that I’ve gone to school at this institution, there has been an incident that sparked racial tensions (a “thug” themed party, a Greek rank post about why sororities don’t accept black women, endless Yik Yak posts about how black people are only useful for sports). This is not a new issue for SMU. It’s just more prevalent. Now, instead of anonymously having these opinions and intentions, we openly tell girls wearing Mexican jerseys to “take it back to Mexico since she has so much pride.”

AM: In response to these incidents of intolerance, many parts of the SMU community have come together to fight back such as the Defending Dignity event by the Embrey Human Rights Program. Do you think the SMU community is doing enough to fight for diversity?

SC: No. We aren’t. Minorities on this campus have asked for years and years for there to be a diversity component to PRW. “Every Mustang Will Be Valued” is clearly not enough. That’s a 30-minute exercise at the beginning of a student’s SMU career, and then they forget about it. We’re doing a poor job of mandatory education about diversity, which is quite ironic because this school’s slogan is “World Changers, Shaped Here.” How can you change the world when you know nothing about it?

“How can you change the world when you know nothing about it?”

AM: SMU has been known for quite some time to be lacking in diversity. What steps do you think the administration and community as a whole could take to help make this university a welcoming place for students of all backgrounds?

SC: I think it starts with implementing more efforts in diversity here. Once potential students off campus see how inclusive and diverse it is here, then it’s easier for a multitude of students to feel more accepted here and want to go to this school. Action shows change and growth.

This article was written by Alec Mason. Click here to see more of Alec’s work.