Reported discrimination at MU is more than black and white

1 year 7 months 2 weeks ago December 13, 2015 Dec 13, 2015 Sunday, December 13 2015 Sunday, December 13, 2015 12:14:57 PM CST in News
By: Jenna Middaugh and Jeff Militzer, KOMU 8 Digital Producers

COLUMBIA - Protests at the University of Missouri by ConcernedStudent1950 brought the issue of racism on campus to the nation’s attention, but reported racism at MU goes beyond a person’s skin color. 

Religious and ethnic minority groups say they also experience discrimination in both the classroom and community at MU. 

A group of women sat inside Mizzou Hillel, a Jewish center on campus, planning a Hanukkah party.

The women said they often come to the Hillel between classes to hang out, talk and eat.

“We enjoy each other’s company, and the environment is very friendly,” one Jewish student said.

In between picking out songs for the holiday playlist, laughing, eating and joking with each other, the women exchanged stories about discrimination they’ve faced on campus.

The group agreed most of the discrimination they’ve experienced comes from misconceptions people have about the Jewish religion, religious practices and stereotypes.

Maren Gelfond said she had a dorm floor mate who assumed her parents had high paying jobs just because they were Jewish.

Emily Isaacs said when she first came to Mizzou, her friends asked her why she didn’t have a big nose if she was Jewish.

Andrea Sak said there were two boys she was friends with who would call her and her two other friends the “trinity” because the boys knew they were all religious, even though the trinity is a symbol for Christianity.

“They put our religion before our personality,” Sak said. “But we’re so much more than that.”

The women all came from different backgrounds, so their initial experiences were different when they first came to Mizzou.

Gelfond said she went to a high school where about 60 percent of the students were Jewish. She said her high school would have school off on Jewish holidays.

“It was really weird coming here,” she said about first attending Mizzou.

Dana Yanow said she went to a more diverse school, and there were not as many Jewish students.

“It was actually a culture shock for me to be around more Jews,” she said.

Besides experiencing discrimination from individuals, the women agreed MU as a whole is not organized to be inclusive to Jewish students.

Sak said teachers often schedule exams on Yom Kippur, one of the holiest days for the Jewish religion. She said most of her teachers have been willing to make adjustments, though.

Yanow, however, said she had a teacher who wouldn’t let her miss class to go to a Jewish holiday service.

“She said I would have to use one of my three unexcused absences,” Yanow said. “I shouldn’t have to be punished for going to something for my religion.”

The women also discussed how Greek Life doesn’t really take Jewish holidays into consideration.

Last year, Yanow said Homecoming’s day of service was on Yom Kippur.

“It’s a mandatory event,” she said. “But c’mon, it’s the holiest day of the year for us.”

The women said Greek Life should be more considerate, because there’s even a Jewish fraternity on campus, Alpha Epsilon Pi.

Yanow said for Greek Week two years ago, the Alpha Epsilon Pi asked not to be on the first day of Passover, but they were put on it.

She said most of the problems could be solved by looking at a calendar and being considerate of Jewish holidays.

Mizzou Hillel Executive Director Jeanne Snodgrass said the holidays might be listed on calendars, but people may not know what they are.

The women said the discrimination they face is nothing new. Their parents also faced racist comments and actions during their time in college.

Sak said her dad’s roommate in college thought he had devil horns and asked him to show them. Yanow said her mom experienced a similar interaction with her college roommate.

Overall, the women agreed the atmosphere on Mizzou’s campus is relatively inclusive toward Jewish students. They said the biggest thing is people are just uneducated about their religion and have stereotypes they believe all Jewish students fit.

The women said one thing they would like other students to know is that, while they do like to joke around and have fun, jokes about Jewish people and the Jewish religion are often hurtful.

“It’s hard to tell if people are making fun with jokes or trying to be funny,” Yanow said.

While the women said they don’t want to downplay the racism and discrimination they and other Jewish students face, they admit they don’t always experience outright racism because, they said, Jewish people look like everybody else.

Overall, the women agreed Mizzou needs to be more inclusive to all students on campus, regardless of gender, race or religion.

Another student shared her experience as a minority student on campus.

Daphne Yu is an Asian American who said the first time she experienced racism was as a freshman at Mizzou.

She said it was during fall semester and she was at an international welcome party. Yu said she was walking on the street with an international friend when a car filled with white males drove by and someone shouted out the window, “Go back to where you came from. We don’t want you here.”

Yu said she’s grown up in Columbia, so she was really hurt when the men yelled that at her because Columbia is where she’s from. 

“My high school was pretty open to diversity,” she said. “I never felt ostracized, so I was shocked that the first time I experienced racism was at a higher education institution.” 

Yu said she got involved with the Asian American Association on campus her freshman year and started learning more about subtle acts of racism. She said she realized she had seen a lot of examples of discrimination in her life without realizing what it was at the time.

“In high school, people would always tell me things like, ‘You’re going to do fine because you’re Asian,’” Yu said. “I never really thought anything of it then, but now I’ve come to realize generalizing things Asians do because they’re supposed to be ‘smart’ is devaluing the hard work they put in to studying.” 

She said she’s also had teachers just assume she was doing well in a class because she’s Asian.

Outside of personal experience, Yu said. history is also told in a way that writes off Asians. She said she had a history class her sophomore year about post-Civil War America.

“The history they tell is through a Euro-centric lens,” she said.

Yu said the professor was lecturing on World War II and spent a large chunk of class talking about the United States and Europe. She said he then went on to talk for around 10 minutes about the origin of Wrigley gum but only spent approximately 30 seconds on internment camps.

“And, basically, all he said about the camps were they were not as bad as Nazi camps,” she said.

Yu said the lack of time spent on history that affects other ethnicities is disrespectful to the people who lived through it and their descendants.

With the recent protests surrounding racism at MU, Yu said she has noticed a change in the atmosphere.

“Before the protests, I would say people on campus were apathetic and uneducated about racism,” she said.

Yu said it wasn’t because students were purposely trying to be racist, it was because they didn’t know or were never taught about certain events that affect and hurt minorities.

“You can’t really blame the student population for not knowing it’s a thing,” she said.

After the protests, though, Yu said people are more uncomfortable about racism.

“It’s easier to ignore an uncomfortable problem than face it,” she said. “But what people don’t know or don’t realize is that uncomfortable feeling they have now is what some students face daily. 

Yu said she believes it’s going to take time and effort to change the atmosphere on campus to be more inclusive toward minorities.

“It’s going to be a process,” she said. “There’s not one solution.” 

Yu said she thinks there should be a diversity class requirement for all students. 

“It would teach minority students that being uncomfortable isn’t wrong, and they shouldn’t have to put up with something that makes them uncomfortable,” she said. “It would also get white students to realize this is a thing that does happen.”

Yu said most of the racism problems on campus stem from students and teachers not knowing what it’s like to experience being uncomfortable as a minority.

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