Letter to the editor — Joseph Shepard
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Recently, Vice President Taben Azad wrote a letter to the editor of The Sunflower. He fearlessly shared his sentiments about the lack of support from the President’s Executive Team and addressed the praise he received from members of the WSU community after publicly speaking against members of the administration. He stated in his letter to the editor, “Rather than criticism and disrespect, I received respect and praise for stating the same facts that were said last year during the midst of this controversy by President Shepard.”
This tough reality resonates with me every day as a black male, who happens to be a student leader on campus. Unfortunately, because of the pigmentation of my skin, my thoughts and experiences are seen as invalid to many. I recall speaking against the administration last year and despite the evidence provided to support my rationale behind speaking against the administration and protesting the president, I was referred to as unprofessional and my experiences were seen as invalid. The truth of the matter is that as a black man in a position of power, I wake up some mornings to be reminded that even in a position of privilege, I am still given little respect and support. I wake up looking forward to working for a institution and student body that I love only to realize that in the midst of frustration and hurt, I cannot express those emotions without being viewed as an angry black man. Although my reasoning for being upset is ultimately a result of proven unjust behavior exhibited by the administration, my feelings are considered a sign of ungratefulness.
Black men in positions of power are often times unjustifiably feared. It’s the passion in our voice, the determination in our eyes and the persistency in how we rise despite the odds against us that’s mistaken as anger, intimidation and a threat to the status quo. However, the days of dimming my light just to make others comfortable is over. It’s now time for me to be loud, proud and unapologetic about what I bring to the table.
I never want anyone to experience the backlash I did a year ago. Nevertheless, this situation just reinforced the fact that unless an individual from a privileged standpoint validates my experiences, it will be seen as illegitimate to many. Taben ended his letter by acknowledging his privilege. Please know that is only the first step of solving the problem. While acknowledging your privilege might make you feel like a hero, you should use it to offer the same opportunities you’ve been provided to everyone.
I was undecided on whether or not I should share this message. Part of me wishes to avoid the personal attacks, but the leader in me desires to use the platform God has blessed me with to create positive change. This year, I see an astonishing, yet unusual, population of involved black men. My prayer is that if any of them dreams of being Student Body President, I can make the journey smoother for them by speaking truth to power.
I hope President Bardo, his team and my fellow Shockers acknowledge the emotional and mental damage they cause when they invalidate the experiences of students. These experiences are real, and they’re happening right here on campus. If you care about innovation and diversity, don’t just create a President’s Diversity Council, or rap at diversity week in hopes to connect to the minority population, but engage with students and address the issues they’re facing. After all, that’s what you get paid the big bucks for.