Column: Witnessing separation in Columbia, Missouri

It’s wrong to think that MU has no room for growth toward improving integration and inclusiveness.

For those of you who aren't aware, I am from Las Vegas. Now, Nevada was named the Mississippi of the West quite some time ago due to the fact that it was the only West Coast state that took Jim Crow laws seriously and even really enforced them. I bring this up to say that even in Nevada, the Mississippi of the West, I've never witnessed so much separation within a community. Before I moved to Columbia, my father told me that I would have to choose a side here, choose a side between black and white. I was appalled. I've never chosen a side in my life because I never needed to. I can have black and white friends, and there's nothing hard about that.

I didn't believe my father about choosing a side until I walked on this campus. There's blacks, whites and Asians and I don't see much else. I have very rarely seen black people walking with white people, and then again, I have probably only seen that once since I've gotten here, now that I'm thinking about it. The separatism on this campus is real. The feeling that, as a black female, I do not fit in comfortably with a group of white females is apparent. I've now realized how lucky I was to grow up on the West Coast, to very rarely have these problems until I moved here. Those who aren't black do not believe that there is truly a problem here, but I can tell you there is.

I have never met people who feel so free in expressing their generally socially unacceptable opinions, hiding behind the concept of free speech or simply the guise of intoxication. Even in situations when they're trying to choose their words carefully, I find people still thinking that racist and biased opinions and expressions are acceptable to use. I've heard a range of statements from, "It isn't sexist because women put themselves into that situation," to "You're the only pretty black girl I've ever seen in my life," as well as, "People need to stop complaining about their hardships, because no one cares, and people have the right to say and feel what they want."

I'll admit that your opinion or observation is yours to have, but is it really necessary to express? Why do you feel comfortably expressing that opinion? These are things that people may feel living in Las Vegas or on the West Coast, but they would never feel comfortable enough to express them in a public setting where people generally don't agree with them.

I am over-privileged. I have realized that I have been sheltered from situations such as these, but to see something portrayed through the media is one thing, and it's another to deal with it. I was never afraid to walk anywhere in Las Vegas — whether it was early morning, late night, downtown, or by my house in the suburbs — I was not afraid. Here in Columbia, I am consciously aware that it is dangerous for me, a black female, to walk to my residence hall by myself past 10 p.m. Back home, I never felt perturbed when approaching someone who did not identify as being black, but here, I'm overly conscious of the fact they do not look like me, and therefore this situation may not turn out to be "positive." Back home, I have always felt primarily as if security or police officers were there to help, even if they had stopped me. But in Columbia, I have never felt as if security is here to help me, but rather that I should be apprehensive of its presence.

As an outsider being exposed to this way of life for the first time, I say that we all have a lot of room to grow, and that over time, it's perfectly possible that education and diversity may develop in this area. But as of right now, for those of you who feel that MU is a perfectly fine campus, with no problems concerning diversity at all, you're wrong. You're wrong to believe that MU has no room to grow, because MU has a long, long journey ahead, and it starts with you.

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