It might be safe to say that the Riders as a whole, walked away from Southwest Baptist University disturbed and sick to our stomachs. I first have to apologize for anything offensive I may say, but after 13 schools where I have endured racism, sexism, homophobia, masogynism, classism, ageism, and different oppressions I am tired of having patience. SBU, while not the worst school in terms of welcome and friendliness, for me were absolutely clueless in regards to systems of oppression, racism, sexism...I can go on.
Where do I begin?
We arrived at the school about 10 minutes early and as we were getting off the bus students, faculty, staff, and administrators began pouring out of the front doors to greet us. It immediately put a smile on my face. BSU was Amanda's stop and in my heart I wanted everything to go so well, knowing she had worked very hard along with the school to schedule the day. As I shook hands and introduced myself to a group of smiling faces, my host for the day, Revecca, found me and Jennifer Luu. Not all schools feel the need to pair the Riders up with student or faculty "hosts", but there have been a few schools that do that. I don't mind. Sometimes it really works out, like it did for me yesterday. I thought Revecca, a staff member in the Physical Therapy department, was smart and friendly a wonderful listener and I greatly enjoyed her company. It always takes me a moment to try to gauge who I'm paired with because schools have done some devious things, like tell their hosts not to bother to engage in debate with us because we are so well "trained" that it would be futile. Yeah, just some really dumb things that hurt any type of relationship even before it begins. Jennifer and I chatted with Revecca for a while, explained Preferred Pronoun Preferences, talked about past campus visits, and discussed the intersections of oppression...all before lunch!
We talked a little bit with faculty and administrators and had coffee and then we all walked to chapel. I really believe that's where all problems began. The service was atrocious. Apparently there was a guest speaker and none of the administrators wanted to take responsibility for the awful things this person said, instead passing the buck or shirking responsibility. I'll paint a picture. As soon as I walked into this huge auditorium there was metal christian rock playing. I was happily surprised. It was lively and fun. We settled down. I sat near Amanda and other fellow Riders and took a moment away from my amazing host to enjoy service. Then a band came on and started singing and playing music. While it was nice I was painfully aware of the lack of representation of people of color. Nothing ethnic whatsoever except for a very offensive shout out of something like "let's begin the Natives are getting restless". It only got worse. A picture of Black babies came on the huge flatscreens and a speaker came out to give a sermon (lecture?). He talked about how he had just come from (Sudan?) and saw how little girls as young as age 8 were exploited, and went into great detail about how often they were used in an hour and daily...and then in the next sentence called that same exploited child a "whore". I almost vomited. Then the very next moment he was saying that people do worse things than that in their heads. What? I was so offended and disgusted and still couldn't understand why there were pictures of Black children on the screen and a White speaker that obviously had no idea what he was talking about (and from comments from the students later that day, they had no idea what he was talking about either). Another huge problem we saw was the "sermon's" emphasis on missionary work. The speaker (sorry I can't remember the name) said that the decision wasn't about whether to go, but whether you should stay. And as I spoke to more people and realized their absolute lack of understanding of other races/ethnicities and cultures...and given missionary works' legacy of cultural genocide and destruction of whole peoples...throwing these kids into this type of work without any type of sensitivity training (what's that?) was disturbing to us. I wanted to get out of there. And I like missionary work! I think it's a great idea to get involved in your world. But not the way SBU is doing it. Not with kids that at 19 and 20 years old are asking questions like, "well, isn't White a color too?" After the awful speech/sermon there was more music full of sexist and ableist offensive language. There was a "boys'" part followed by a "girl's" part and the lyrics were all about "standing for God". Clearly, they don't think about their students who may have trouble with this wording. As one of our Riders uses a wheelchair, they have helped us become more aware of the language we use. I try to tell myself that the school allowing us on campus was a big step in the right direction, but I'm not sure. They are absolutely clueless about how to overcome any type of oppression in their own school although they have been in business for 132 years.
Between chapel and lunch we stopped at the "quad" by the fountain and talked with students. I was approached by a really wonderful young man and his friend and although I am going to respect our conversation, I at least want to commend this person for opening their heart and trusting me with some very confidential information about his past and opening himself up through dialogue to reveal his pain about the racism that permeates SBU. Frankly, I was pissed off when he said that people "look away" when he passes by and then he shared his pessimism that the school could ever change. It saddened my heart and told him that we were here to talk about all forms of oppression and discrimination and that even though he couldn't make it to the panel (the only event opened to all students) I would make sure to speak up for him.
We moved on to lunch after that. Round tables with 6 or 7 people and some really great food. I was hoping to begin engaging in some real dialogue about LGBTQ issues at my table, but I just so happened to sit with Kurt, the Chapel Director, and DJ (bless her heart) blurted out "Who let that guy speak?" And so ensued a conversation about racism and missionary work in which the Dean of Students, the Chapel Director, a Student Representative, Revecca, and four Riders all had much to say. I didn't hold back. I was hurt from the awful chapel service where I was offended from the pulpit as a woman and as a person who admires missionary work, as a person of color that was not represented, and as a person that work against this narrow-minded view of the world. Kurt's response was "we have minorities preach, don't judge on what you see in only one day"...and I lost it. I said, "there is NO excuse or reason why people of color should not be in everything you do ALL the time. It is not about us being included by White people, but about being an integral part of everything that is happening in this world." (None of that verbatim, I was pissed off and I was so appalled at what this supposed Leader was saying, how clueless he was, how blatant the racism...there was no way I could stay quiet. Another racist and stupid remark: "We want people of color to participate but they just aren't interested." WTF? If I walk into chapel and it is heavy metal or ska punk, and the band and singers are White, what they sing and how they sing it does not represent my culture or how I grew up whatsoever, and people from the pulpit are saying some ignorant, racist remarks while displaying Black kids' faces for sympathy... WHY THE HELL WOULD I WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN ANY OF THAT? Most of the diversity population (6%) are there for athletics. So what I gathered is that they take in "minority" kids on athletic scholarships to claim diversity, preying on the fact that most of these kids need it so that they can get a degree, taylor events and activities specifically around White culture or standards, and then BLAME these students because they are not interested in going through more ostracism and mental harm. One of the seniors at our table asked so many good questions, making himself vulnerable, but at the same time...HE'S A SENIOR! Like, about to graduate, and go off into the world and asked questions like: "Isn't White a color?" Had no idea what "White Privilege" was, nor the hint of understanding systems of oppression. This while the Dean of Students and the Chapel Director also could not explain, and were using offensive language as well!
It was a really long day. After that six of our Riders joined a panel discussion with 6 SBU students and faculty. It was awful, too. While Jess, one of our Riders who is a queer woman of color, spoke during the panel another Rider, Jason, sat in front of a Psychology Professor and heard all kinds of derogatory comments about her. And one of the panelists, a professor actually said something like: "The way I love you I call it love and you call it oppression, it's sad." Four of us from the audience yelled back, “YES, it IS sad!” So, kick us out of your schools, out of your communities, out of your families...because that's what you think love is, nevermind how it was that Jesus would love people.
At the end of the day some of us were ashamed of calling ourselves Christians. Personally, as someone that has just found Jesus three years ago and am still growing in my faith I lost my excitement for the first time. I question what Christians believe love is and if that aligns with my vision of love. And how can it be possible that I am capable of loving my friends greater than what God is capable of? How is it that I can love them and find them beautiful and God cannot? I remind myself that God sent Jesus as the ultimate example, and to not look to the different kinds of Christianity or Christians to follow. I try to remind myself. Sometimes the fences and divisions that we encounter along the way make it really difficult for me to believe that God wanted that. Pentecostal, Protestant, Mormon, Quakers, Baptist, whatever. They claim to be more right than others. And then Christianity claims to be more right than Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. I throw my hands in the air and just pray. Pray that God knows we are simple and just need to be loved. And that being loved is not as complicated as we want to make it.