Social Justice, Race, and Regis

(Photo: Frances Meng-Frecker)

               “We should be ahead, but instead we’re behind,” said Jack Flotte, outgoing director of RUSGA’s Social Justice and Spirituality Committee. When Flotte made this remark, he was discussing the fact that, as a Jesuit University, Regis should logically be ahead of the curve when it comes to justice, and incorporating all races, but, for some reason, we aren’t.

               Over the past month, Regis has undergone conversations of race, community, and issues that people of color face on our campus. Many people have left feeling as if there was no resolution, but Flotte sees hope in the fact that over 150 people showed up to the first talk, and people continued to attend subsequent ones.

               Why do we need these conversations? Why do we have an office specifically for Diversity and Inclusion? Because our community is a fractured one that needs to be fixed, luckily we have the people to do that. Student Government and the Diversity Office give students a chance to have their voices heard, but it can still be hard to grasp what it means to be a person of color on Regis’ campus.

               “It means that you are going to be uncomfortable a lot of the time,” said Awah Tilong, who works in the Diversity Office. “You either succumb to that and let that affect your experience or you use it to help create an environment that is more comfortable.” The latter is the reason that events like Anti-Oppression Week and Social Justice Week exist.

               Anti-Oppression Week was meant to educate, inform, and was heavily organized by faculty members Brian Drwecki and Damien Thompson. It was during this week that Flotte infamously made remarks about dismantling the “myth” of black-on-black crime. He delivered these remarks during a presentation about White Guilt.

               “The point of this talk was to normalize this conversation about race,” said Flotte. He believes that people are afraid to talk about race, and that we stigmatize these discussions in our society.

               Many national news sources attacked Flotte, saying his statement was false, but no one gave him the chance to clarify. For Flotte, the remark emerged not because black people never commit crimes against other black people, but because people utilize this narrative to undermine the black community, and movements such as Black Lives Matter.

               “We think it’s a social phenomenon and we believe it's inherently different from when white people commit crimes,” said Flotte. His aim was to demonstrate that this is inherently untrue, but that’s not how many perceived it.

               Flotte is not alone in his beliefs about how harmful the message of black-on-black crime is. In fact, others suggest it is another way for non-minorities to continue to believe that they have no role in the oppression of others.

               “It’s just a way to dilute the fact that black people have experienced more violence, more oppression, and have had a more negative experience in America,” said Tilong. “No matter what you say, they will say ‘but you guys are doing it to yourselves.’ Even though there’s a system; it’s still our fault.”

               Being able to ignore issues of race is another form of privilege. Reinforcing the black-on-black crime narrative is another way that people are forced to pick privilege over reform.

               “It’s a rhetoric tool that is used to divide people,” said Flotte. “It tells us the problems in black communities are not your problems—that you don’t have a role in the problems or the solutions.”

               Inter-group violence exists because of our segregated communities, and the fact that we live in a world where limited resources are controlled by institutions rather than communities. However, when people try to bring issues of justice, especially those of race, to light, they are often met with violent backlash.

               “The minute people feel like they are being targeted they feel defensive or scared,” said Tilong. She remarks that it 's hard to create ally-ship because people tend to take any discussion of race as a personal insult, even though it is simply about creating spaces for stories other than the dominant ones to be heard.

               Flotte, who comes from a family of military and police, says that he thinks people often interpret power for others as an attack on them. This is why he believes we have such difficulty creating reform in our world. Rather than being an attack on others, reform is about gaining agency for those who have had it stripped from them in the past, but it can be hard for people to grasp that. This tension is where we find push-back on justice reform in our society.

               “Regis as an institution isn’t going to change, not because they don’t want to, but because they don’t have to,” said Tilong.  “There isn’t enough of us others to put influence on this school…to make this change happen quick and smooth. Students with this privilege and power need to put their privilege aside and stop taking things so personally. Don’t combat change. Us making this community comfortable for us will make it comfortable for you too. We aren’t trying to have a revolution we seek to make a community where we can all feel fine and comfortable.”

               Regis is a small place to start the reform that Flotte, Tilong, and many others believe our society needs. However, it has become clear that, even on our small campus, there are barriers to accessing this justice. In the future, there is hope that those restrictions can be lifted, and we can achieve change at our school.

Catie Cheshire Staff Reporter