A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through the Diag with a friend when I saw someone I did not recognize running toward me. Like many folks, when I see a person headed in my direction, at whatever pace, my initial thought is not that they are intending on body-slamming me into the ground. So imagine my utter confusion when, less than a few seconds later, I was on the pavement, my legs tangled underneath a student who I have never met — the same student who had literally just shoved me over. Before I could even think about having any kind of reaction, he shot up off the ground and started shouting, “That’s a point! That’s a point!” while waving his pointer finger at me, and laughing with two of his friends who were standing by. He did not ask me if I was OK (I was not). He did not offer to help me up. He did not even take a second to acknowledge my existence. Instead, he ran away, grinning about the fact that he physically assaulted someone as she was walking to class. I found out later that this was something some fraternities were awarding pledge points for.
Last week, I met with one of my mentors and told her about what happened. It wasn’t until I finished speaking, and saw the look of disgust and horror on her face, that I realized I had been laughing throughout the entire story. What was initially something that left me shaking with anger and sadness turned into just another day in the life. I had normalized a completely dehumanizing experience, because, unfortunately, being made to feel lesser than, like an object, like an “other,” is not new for me.
As a queer-questioning woman of color, I have continuously struggled to find my voice and visibility on this campus and in this world. From having “chink” screamed at me from a car as a seven-year-old first learning to ride a bike, to being called an “oriental princess” by a drunk upperclassman within days of coming to the University, discrimination has always been a part of my life and college story. Sadly, my experience is not a unique one. Students with disabilities, students of color, LGBTQ students and other students with marginalized identities are consistently silenced and made to feel invisible at this school. Not only are the people who hold these identities far and few here, but our issues are ignored and never taken seriously.
Obviously (or at least I hope it’s obvious), I’m not saying that all of these issues have occurred at the hands of members of Greek life, or, in this case, the Inter-Fraternity Council. Individuals in IFC are not the problem. Individuals in IFC who ignore, deny, and/or perpetuate the systems of power and privilege that birth these issues are a problem, as are individuals not in IFC who do the same. If you have always felt supported at this university and your identities not attacked (if you “identify” as a Michigan football fan and are relating this to what you felt after the loss to MSU, please sit down), then think about how these systems have played into that. Think about how we are socialized to believe the identities you hold are “normal,” and how people who don’t hold your identities have learned to expect disrespect and maltreatment.
I wish I didn’t need to include this paragraph, but it seems that no matter how many times I try to express this sentiment, some people will continue to miss the point and highlight my mention of Greek life as the most important factor of the story. It’s not. So here it is, right at the end so you will remember it: This is not an attack on Greek life. Again, in the exact same words: This. Is. Not. An. Attack. On. Greek. Life. You do not need to prove to me #NotAllGreekLife. If you are reading this and you are a cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-middle class white man (which, guessing by the demographics of this institution and not the demographics of people who actually read Michigan in Color, a vast majority of you are), this is also not an attack on you. This is me, expressing my anger, sharing my trauma, and spreading awareness of the flawed and oppressive system under which we all live, but from which only a select few of us benefit. This is me, trying to get you to understand that if you are a beneficiary of this system, you are supporting institutional oppression, whether you want to or not. And this is me, pleading with the last bit of patience I have left, that you play your part in dismantling or, at the very least, simply recognizing this system, so that the bigotry, exclusion and violence that exist on this campus will not be the defining characteristics of mine and so many others’ college experience.
If, after this, you still believe that purposely pushing someone over and potentially injuring them is OK, funny, your right or a goddamn game, you are living in the privileged reality that I am literally dedicating my entire life and career to deconstruct and destroy piece by fragile piece. I am a human being, not your point to earn through harassment and assault, and when the system that affords you your privilege is gone, you can bet that your pledge points won’t matter.
Michigan in Color is the Daily’s opinion section designated as a space for and by students of color at the University of Michigan. To contribute your voice or find out more about MiC, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.