Northwest Missourian Opinion

After reading the opinion pieces printed in the Northwest Missourian during the last two weeks, I am responding in my role as the leader of the University’s Diversity and Inclusion office. Through the course of events in our country this summer, more people have been able to identify with the concept of systemic racism. They have heard terms such as privilege, white privilege and oppression, but I am not sure everyone understands how ingrained systemic racism and oppression is in our formal and informal society.

The authors of both the letter and the original column made generalized statements related to race, while the letter to the editor printed last week also included microaggressive statements that should be addressed and discussed with the author. The generalizations stated in each piece made it clear that we, as a community, need to evaluate our focus to ensure we are moving in the right direction. If the goal is to end racism itself, that is not going to happen until there is equal focus on addressing the problematic systems which were founded upon and uphold the principles of racism. Our focus should be on addressing the systemic racism that exists at Northwest and in the city of Maryville.

In my opinion, the problem of systemic racism stems from two things. First, government and societal rules were built from an oppressive system. The past cannot be changed, but it can be acknowledged. I believe people are not inherently bad; all of us were born into a society built to support some and hold back others. Secondly, I hope most people would agree that we should live in an equitable world. I commend the people who are open to having these conversations. It is super important.

However, it is also important to know that after the acknowledgement, talking about social justice is the beginning. There is a difference between not being racist or oppressive and being anti-racist or anti-oppressive. Just because we have the conversation from time to time does not mean we are solving issues related to systemic racism.

The frustrating part for our marginalized students at Northwest is they do not choose when these conversations happen and when they are important. Rather, it is important all of the time, and it affects them all of the time, while majority students can go back to their “normal” lives that are inherently built and systemically supported for them.

I have spent a lot of my professional life thinking about how I can help others before I realized that being an educator is about supporting students to be able to help themselves. What causes are you helping? And are you really helping? If we all truly believe in change, then we need to attack systemic racism.

We need to recognize systemic racism. Vocalizing, not perpetuate it and fight it at its root. If you are not helping to break and change the system, you are accepting the consequences of systemic racism and not confronting the root of these problems. This means that systemic racism will persist and continue. Therefore, if we are going to address systemic racism at Northwest and in Maryville, it must be done together. We must address the root issues, not just the surface level issues.

The opinion pieces in The Missourian in recent weeks have shown us that there is more work to be done. We must shift our focus to identifying systemic racism at our University and community by dismantling and reforming the root causes of systemic racism. I invite you to contact me to understand the actions we are taking at Northwest to identify, address and take action toward systemic racism, which affects our underrepresented populations. This is how transformative change happens, and it must start with all of us.

Justin Mallett

Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion

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