Two weeks ago, I wrote a strongly worded letter to the editor concerning the planned “Indian Theme Party.” There are many legitimate critiques of the letter, and I apologize for any hurt or misunderstanding the letter evoked among Miami University students. I do, however, stand by the core message of my letter: the Indian Party showed enormous poor judgment and disrespect toward the Miami Tribe, as well as the values of our campus community, and the party was yet another negative contribution toward our university’s campus racial climate.
Our country is deeply divided by race. According to the work of Professor Gary Orfield, in 2006-07, the average white student in the U.S. attended a high school that was 75 percent white and only 13 percent of white students attended a high school where white students made up 50 percent or less of the student body. Such experiences are not necessarily representative of every student on campus.
Still, these relatively homogeneous environments affect many of us and our perceptions of one another whether we realize it or not (try Googling “implicit bias”). College is a rare opportunity to break the cycle of homogeneity by engaging with racial diversity and learning from each other’s differences. Unfortunately, incidents like the “Indian Theme Party” do little to promote a climate of inclusiveness and trust in our community.
I treasure the relationships I have built with my white colleagues and students. I see these people as individuals, but also recognize their racial background has shaped many of their experiences and viewpoints, just as my background as an Asian-American has shaped many of mine.
I believe that together we have a collective responsibility to make Miami a place where students of all races and ethnicities flourish as students, and part of that responsibility involves challenging actions that perpetuate racial ignorance, whether such ignorance is intentionally fostered or not.