Calling on my Fellow White Men

Eli Cousin

Simply put, I feel I am not qualified to speak on the events that have unfolded on Colgate’s campus this past semester. I am writing this piece as a reflection on the extremely trying and disturbing events that have occurred over the course of the entire semester, rather than solely focusing on one single evening.

As an upper-class, heterosexual, white male, I will never experience racism in my lifetime. For these reasons, I cannot speak to the fear that every single black male felt on this campus when another black male carrying a glue gun was perceived as an active shooter in what amounts to a clear case of racial profiling.

As an upper-class, heterosexual, white male, I will almost certainly never experience sexual assault and sexual violence. For these reasons, I will never know the emotional and physical pain that survivors of sexual assault on this campus will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

What I am qualified to speak on, however, is how people that look like me –– myself included –– are unquestionably the most common perpetrators of racial profiling and sexual assault. What this means is that the burden of combatting these problems falls squarely on our shoulders. I ask every single white male on this campus to join me in considering: what will we do to combat the rampant racism and sexual violence on this campus?

I know this is not just a problem for white men; all white people are complicit in racism, and we most certainly do not live in a post-racial society. But as a white man, I am writing to the people who share a similar identity as me, and asking for us to recognize this problem that we perpetrate.

After listening to the accounts of students of color, the gravity of the situation became increasingly clear to me. On the night of the lockdown, the life of every single black male on Colgate’s campus was put in jeopardy. In the chapel, a black classmate spoke of how he was more afraid of encountering searching, on-site police officers than the actual “suspected shooter.” This is the reality of being a black student on a predominantly white campus; this is the reality of being a black individual in a systemically racist society.

This reality is also one where students of color cannot even go about their daily business without the possibility of being racially profiled. A student attempting to complete a school project was perceived as an active shooter merely because of the color of his skin. Again, I ask my white male peers: would campus safety have been called if it was one of us carrying a glue gun?

Shifting gears, Colgate has also struggled with the issue of sexual assault this semester and throughout its history. To my male peers in the class of 2020: as you begin to think about rushing a fraternity in the Fall, I challenge you to consider whether the organization that you want so desperately to join reflects the values and moral principles that will promote the well-being of all students on this campus. If you elect to rush a fraternity that has tried to protect perpetrators of sexual assault, what message are you sending to the survivors of these horrific acts of violence?

Perhaps I should be blunt. If you elect to rush any fraternity currently facing sexual assault allegations, you will in-turn be saying to survivors of sexual assault that you have no regard for their experience, have no empathy for their pain and are simply not an ally of survivors on this campus. Twenty years from now, when your daughter looks you in the eyes and asks you to explain the atrocity of sexual assault and the struggles she may face as a young woman, what credibility will you have? How will you be able to look at yourself in the mirror knowing that you are complicit in the violence and rape of innocent women?

I am not writing this piece from a position of moral superiority. I, too, have been complicit in implicit racism and environments that allow for sexual assault. That is why I am calling on my fellow white men. We, collectively, must do better. It is not acceptable to force the students of color on this campus to tell us when we are racist or when we do not understand their plight. It is not acceptable for the task of eradicating sexual assault to fall solely in the hands of women, or even worse, the survivors themselves.

Change starts from within. White men on this campus, myself included, must begin to acknowledge that systematic racism exists, and that many of our circles and groups are regretfully conducive to sexual violence. We must educate ourselves, listen to our peers and stand up for justice.

Power in this country and on this campus has historically been disproportionately located in the hands of white men. This power has led us, as a group, to fail our peers, specifically those whom are women and people of color. Now, we must channel this power and create positive change, both on this campus and off of it. These two issues in particular have continued to plague Colgate, as well as our country as a whole. We, as white men, can no longer be silent and complicit; this campus and this country demand change.