This week, Bloomington has made national news for racist hate crimes and tolerance of them once again. This news has been covered well by the Indiana Daily Student, but Indiana University has made only one official statement, on Twitter and Facebook. That is unacceptable to me, so I am calling on our administration to do better. Content Warning: white supremacy, hate speech, violence.
To the Indiana University community, particularly those in our administration,
I do not know the best way to write this letter, because in full context, this moment deserves an entire dissertation worth of my time, research, writing, and other skills; it deserves yours too. I have been thinking a lot about context lately: I am a cis-hetero white woman who, with all my privilege, is afraid to walk home at night in this town, and I cannot imagine the abandonment and fear that those less privileged than me, particularly my Black colleagues, must feel every day.
So for context, let’s review the week in news in this community:
On July 4th, Monroe country human rights commissioner Vauhxx Booker was nearly lynched by white supremacists near Lake Monroe, Indiana. At least an hour after Booker called 911, law enforcement officers with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) showed up and failed to arrest the assailants. The FBI has opened a hate crime investigation into the events, meanwhile, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has stated that he is “proud of the DNR” and that the officers made “the right decision” to let these white supremacists go home. To date, no names have been officially released and as Noted by Enough is Enough no arrests have been made.
At a July 6th protest held in Bloomington on Booker’s behalf, Christi J. Bennett and an accomplice assaulted two community members with a vehicle, sending one to the hospital. Bennett, who has a substantial criminal record, was arrested and released on July 9th, shortly after posting a $500 cash bail. Her accomplice was only questioned and never arrested. I want to acknowledge that this is the publicly available online discourse about Bennett’s arrest on the Bloomington Police Department’s Facebook page.
Black Lives Matter Bloomington has noted other racially motivated events which have happened just this month [it is only July 10th], and as I wrote last month on the blog, white supremacist violence has been escalating in Bloomington for at least a year. Local groups No Space For Hate Bloomington and The Purple Shirt Brigade have noted that members of an informal “security detail” at this week’s protests may actually be members of accelerationist groups, whose involvement in protests at the national level is still unclear. And over 60 cases of vehicular assault have occurred at BLM protests since May. So, in context, Bloomington embodies every aspect of our national problem with police brutality and institutionalized violence against non-whites, and in a single week. And as far as I can tell, the only official statement regarding these events has come from IU’s Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs and Dean of the University Graduate School, James Wimbush:
IU is for everyone. We work hard to create a welcoming, inclusive, and safe campus and denounce all forms of bigotry, hate, and racism. Learn more at https://t.co/eLkJFBfohG. pic.twitter.com/iFfCXnmDri
— Indiana University Office of Admissions (@IUAdmissions) July 8, 2020
Also for context, let me present some entirely separate news from this week to juxtapose how IU has inconsistent messaging and action-taking mechanisms related to anti-Black racism (above) versus other national policies of harm (below):
IU has announced that it will join a lawsuit against the federal government related to the new ICE/SEVP rules regarding online instruction and student visas, a welcome example of concrete action taken by the university. This announcement comes after IU Vice President for International Affairs, Hannah Buxbaum, called the policy change “unconscionable.“
The ICE/SEVP announcement comes at a time when Universities are struggling to find balance between two major missions, noted by VP Buxbaum in her statement: ensuring public safety and helping students make degree progress. (On this topic specifically, I highly encourage readers to check out Dr. Kevin Gannon’s article “The Summer of Magical Thinking“).
While IU and other institutions fight to protect their international students this week, government officials are increasingly placing pressure on education systems to re-open in the fall, amid truly distressing COVID–19 trends, as the United States reported over 60,500 new cases in a single day. In fact, here is what our President is Tweeting as I write this post:
Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education. Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2020
Also in the news this week is that ICE will begin teaching citizens to arrest immigrants as part of their ongoing “community relations” projects. In context, it bears mentioning that ICE still has hundreds of thousands of people in detention (and for profit), that stories about how police officers and ICE/Border Patrol agents belong to several racist and extremist Facebook groups emerged over a year ago, and that the FBI warned of white supremacists infiltrating american law enforcement a decade ago. And again, in context, this is all happening while President Trump 1) used Nazi symbolism related to anti-fascist political prisoners in (now-removed) campaign ads, 2) referred to the National Guard as the S.S. in reference to their brutality against protesters, 3) Tweeted, then deleted, a video of a Veteran supporter screaming “white power“, and 4) has been accused of using other white supremacist dog whistles (or rather, fog horns).
In the several discussions myself and other students have had this week (month, year…) with our advisors, departments, committees, and yes, our IU administration, people keep asking us to explain why we are so upset. I have embedded over 30 hyperlinks in this post to try and describe the context of our rage, but I have kept my messaging strictly related to this week’s events, so believe me when I say that I could embed hundreds more.
I know this is too much. I know it has been too much. And I know higher education is running on fumes and suffering from its own institutional problems due to changing support for higher education, and the neoliberal trainwreck which has generally ensued. I am going to switch to a tone which I think is more in tune with how I personally feel, knowing all of this.
IU administration cannot simultaneously tell us that they have no power to do anything because the national context for higher education decline is too complicated, at the same time as they are ignoring national context for explicit racism and violence, again embodied by our own town. IU needs to do better by its Black community by directly and publicly responding to these kinds of events as they happen.
If IU refuses to be responsive and accountable to its Black community in this way, then — at the very least — our predominantly white administration cannot express surprise when it’s abandoned by the only people who truly do bring diversity to its oppressive, threatening, and fragile space.
Your concerned graduate student,