Metro State seems so far from the fray. Our campuses hold no symbols of the Confederacy and white supremacy. Our library’s rainbow signs declare “All Are Welcome” in English, Arabic, Hmong, Somali and Spanish. Our college classrooms are filled with perhaps the most diverse student body in the state of Minnesota.
We are every color and creed. We are allies. Together, we forge an anti-racist community.
Charlottesville could never happen here.
Someone scrawled racist graffiti in a restroom in the Library and Learning Center in December 2014.
Every year, a member of the university community is recognized with the Anti-Racism Legacy Award. Past recipients include Professor Nantawan Lewis, Ethnic and Religious Studies, and Professor Daniel Abebe, Individualized Studies.
We rightly honor them. They do righteous work. But does the fact that they work so hard expose an underlying and troubling truth? Perhaps they work so hard because we are not the community we think we are?
We must acknowledge the fight for justice is far from over— on every campus, in every community, southern or northern, homogenous or diverse. So we cannot not rest on our laurels at Metro State. In the torchlit face of Charlottesville, we must ask: what can we do?
Words are welcome. President Arthur issued a strong statement of solidarity with the University of Virginia. She called out white supremacy, Neo-Nazism and the Ku Klux Klan by name. There was no moral equivalency suggested here at Metro State; no “many sides.”
But words alone are not enough. We — we students — must take action. If we want to live and learn as an anti-racist community, we can’t just wish that into being. We must create it with RIGR.
Metro State implemented the Racial Issues Graduation Requirement (RIGR) for all incoming students starting fall 2016. RIGR-approved classes are a minimum of 3 credits and focus on race and racism.
The Minnesota State system’s Office of Equity and Inclusion honored RIGR with their award for best practices in February 2017. When he visited our campus in July, Interim Chancellor Devinder Malhotra lauded RIGR as “a good model… that exposes all students to a better understanding of how to live and learn in a diverse world.”
We can hope other institutions will follow our lead and develop a racial issues requirement of their own; but first we must show that we as students embrace it. We must register for RIGR.
There are 35 RIGR-designated courses or sections offered this fall semester alone. Most are upper division, and can fulfill other GELS requirements. Not surprisingly, many Ethnic Studies classes meet RIGR requirements. But so do some courses in Criminal Justice, Management, Psychology, Social Work, Writing and more. There are RIGR courses for everyone, no matter their major.
RIGR is not about indoctrination; it is about respect. RIGR does not mean rigidity; it means credibility.
So let’s fill every section of every RIGR class with students. And not just those of us admitted since fall 2016 for whom it’s a requirement. Make it your priority to fit it in your schedule. Sit up front, engage with your professor and your classmates. Meet the demands of a RIGR class and face your “personal, moral, civic, and professional responsibilities” to respond to racism.
There were ugly, devastating days this summer; there may be more ahead. But don’t stay home and eat cake. Get to class.