You can walk through this institution and never look back.


Maja Tosic

Never look back at your footsteps being inlaid with gold.
Never look back at the pool of privilege dripping heavily from your being.
Never look back at the lives you step over as you move forward.

I know this, because I was one of them.

Like the majority of students in every entering freshman class, I walked through these ivory doors light as a breeze. As I opened the front gates, I was enamored by the vast “diversity.” I was mesmerized by the knowledge and the intellectual bubble I had entered. I felt welcomed. At the same time, I had the liberty of not experiencing many things.

I wasn’t choked by the omnipresent waves of whiteness and elitism that infiltrated every hall. I never entered a classroom feeling singled out or alone. I was never challenged to contemplate my race or to even understand that whiteness is a race. I was prepared by a white and upper-middle-class community to handle my new University community. My privilege allowed me to be unaware. And my blindness continued, because this institution will keep you blind.

It will tighten the web of oppression, so that you can’t cross racial lines honestly and wholeheartedly. It will tighten the blindfold on your eyes, so that you can’t see the construction of privilege alongside the construction of luxury dorms. It will provide a ladder to the selected many to climb and not see the reality of others as they are left behind.

But unlike me, there were some that did not have the same experience.

For some students, their college career started with a summer program. While I was blissful in ignorance and enjoyed my summer filled with sun and travel, a small portion of students were invited to a summer program that was meant to prepare them to their new lives at the University. Beyond the accelerated classes and study tips, the core of the program is meant to assimilate. There was no program meant to introduce myself and my white peers to the impact of our identity before starting college. Yet this program brought many cash-poor individuals and students of color to campus early in order to learn how to live and act in an institution that silences them and praises wealth and whiteness. Though such explicit words would never be used to describe the purpose of the program.

The need for such a program is maintained by the suffocating white supremacy dominating these halls. And if you do not see the domination of white privilege and power, then the institution is successfully completing its mission. This institution doesn’t wish to unearth troubling and problematic mechanisms. It doesn’t want consciousness to spread. Otherwise, it would make an effort to do so. Instead, it’s perfectly fine with sustaining the need for such summer programs without tackling the source of the problem. The institution is run by making one “cover-your-ass” move after another. These moves, such as developing the summer program and the Race and Ethnicity requirement, hosting a dinner meant to discuss ways to combat sexual assault and renovating the Trotter Multicultural Center are all ways the University is covering its own ass. These actions do not solve the real issues and do not protect the lives of targeted students.

I broke my blindness by actively seeking the few communities that were willing to challenge my existence. It took effort for me to see my identity and to contextualize it. But I can walk away from all of it. The bungee cord of privilege is tightly wound around my hips. It’s constantly pulling me back to the high platform of ignorance, and I must actively resist it. But I have chosen to run over the cliff and fall into the pit of awareness. For many, there is no bungee cord to pull them back to safety. The pit is real and the cliffs are ominous. There is no option to forget or to be blind. Every day is a reminder.

Until this institution stops blindly breeding privilege on top of privilege, it will continue to run the same course. Until then, there will be no required program to teach me and my privileged peers the impact of our actions. It’s upon us to unlearn and to become aware of our identities for the sake of our entire University community.

Maja Tosic can be reached at tosimaj@umich.edu.

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