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“J’Accuse!” With Apologies to Émile Zola

November 10th, 2011

On Oct. 19, here at John Carroll University, I attended an open forum discussion on the issue of racism on campus. I found the discussion and the personal accounts of students to be both enlightening and tragic.

It is an indignity that racism, or any form of intolerance, exists on a campus whose mantra is social justice. The brutal truth is that this terrible phenomenon does exist at John Carroll and seems to have only become progressively worse. The distressing stories that I heard at the forum about physical altercations and verbal abuse towards African-American students only seemed to underscore this fact.

However, what really bothered me was the attendance – or rather the lack thereof – at this well-publicized event. The vast majority of the individuals present appeared to be members of the university staff and administration.

Unfortunately, most students are literally “tuned out” to the rest of the world. They are constantly texting, heads down, listening to music, and could really care less if an act of intolerance or discrimination occurred within 15 feet of them.

The tragedy of this is that most of our students are not racist at all. Indeed if anything, the vast majority would consider themselves to be anti-racists. However, by remaining silent, walling themselves off from reality, and immersing themselves in a virtual cyber world of texting, Facebook and Twitter, they effectively acquiesce to the intolerant and hateful actions of an ignorant few.

So in the words of the great French writer and anti-racist Émile Zola, to all of you – “j’accuse.” In other words, “I accuse.” Yes, I accuse the students of John Carroll University of social and intellectual indifference. I accuse the students of John Carroll University of haughty self-interest and arrogant inaction. I accuse the students of John Carroll University of not reacting, of not doing enough.

What is the solution? What can we, the students, do? How about breaking free of our insular worlds, recognizing the issue, and acting immediately to prevent it? Why must we need to be “enlightened” by faculty and staff? We do not need them to tell us when something is not right. Only we, the students, can foster an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance by speaking out courageously when we witness an injustice.

Only then can we have genuine and sincere change.