CW: Mentions of racism, suicide
On Friday, Oct. 8, a Hispanic Pitzer College student emailed the student body about an incident in which they witnessed someone yelling “fuck Mexico, build the wall” outside a Pitzer College residence hall. The hate crime and responses that followed exemplify Pitzer’s historical and present reality of racism and flawed white allyship that directly work against the college’s core values of intercultural understanding and social responsibility.
I was raised in schools where Asian Americans were the majority racial group. Pitzer’s status as a predominantly white institution cannot be ignored when acknowledging the discomfort people of color here face. The blatant hate crime adds to my own sense of racial displacement, especially since it’s far from the first such incident to happen here.
Beneath claims of diversity and inclusion is a dark past that Pitzer doesn’t immediately acknowledge. Nowhere on their intercultural understanding page do they describe how in 1987, an Asian-American Pitzer student’s suicide led to the creation of Asian-American resource centers at the 5Cs. To preserve their image, Pitzer only acknowledges the history of Asian American struggles at Pitzer from 2001 onward on their website. They don’t even attempt to discuss on their website any previous hate crimes, like when a student involved in Students for Justice in Palestine had her tires slashed in 2014.
Like many people of color at Pitzer, I was appalled by not only the Oct. 8 hate crime but also by the first student response and its failure to meet Pitzer’s standard of social responsibility. The student, in an email reply to the original victim’s report, first reached out to the racist perpetrator because he wanted to “talk about [the incident].” Then, he argued that “both sides [of] this issue have a lot of trouble understanding each other. I’m in the middle.” Most appalling to me was his statement that “it’s just a political issue.”
Nowhere in that reply did he acknowledge the person of color’s trauma, nor did he attempt to push back on the racist action. His actions speak volumes about white Pitzer students’ sense of advocacy. To expand on the replying student’s identity, he described himself as “antiracist” and not “directly hurt” by racialized violence: in other words, a white ally.
First, he elaborates on his attempts at outreach because he believes in changing perspectives. That’s a fine ideal — one he failed to live up to. Conversation is important, but only from a basis of firm opposition to hatred. When the student publicly put out his belief that there are equivalent “sides” and a “middle” to a statement like “fuck Mexico,” he empathized with racial violence.
Furthermore, racism’s consequences reach beyond politics: It is morally wrong. No politics were involved when white Californians assumed my family were all tourists. No politics were involved when substitute teachers said “ni hao” to me (I’m not Chinese). People of color’s lives, emotions and scars are not painless “political issues.” An ear was given to the racist and not to the person of color affected by their words’ violence. This version of flawed advocacy is an iteration of the “white ally” syndrome that plagues Pitzer students.
During a class discussion on anti-racism, one of my friends tallied the number of times white students talked compared to the amount people of color talked. Two white students, in a class where 14 out of 17 students were people of color, talked at least 60 percent of the time. No matter how educated white allies feel, people of color’s voices should always be heard foremost when it comes to issues of race.
At the same time, white people have to understand that centering activists of color does not mean silence and inaction. Invalidating people of color, like in the email chain, was an example of white activists centering themselves. Not letting people of color speak on race is problematic, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, completely avoiding the topic of race to remain comfortable cannot be the norm.
Meanwhile, Pitzer Senate’s executive board statement clearly stated that “hate language of any kind does not belong here” and highlighted that “encouraging Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) to engage in harmful and triggering discussions is not anti-racism.” The statement of support from Pitzer’s Office of the President failed to match the same level of firm opposition.
Pitzer’s administration ultimately did not condemn all hatred on campus. Though they condemned “this behavior” and talked about commitments to their core values, they again skirted past Pitzer’s history of broad racial violence. They stated how “a single action by a single person can carry the weight of history,” failing to reconcile with the reality that multiple actions by many people have and continue to harm people of color at Pitzer.
Pitzer cannot pretend that these are isolated incidents easily counteracted by empty phrases like “celebrating the diversity of our community.”
White people will never fully appreciate the extent racism plays in lives like mine. Nevertheless, no matter how “socially responsible” Pitzer claims to be, a lot more work needs to be done.
Kenny Le PZ ’25 is from Anaheim, California. He works at the Center for Asian Pacific American Students (CAPAS) and wants Pitzer to follow through with the Pitzer Latinx Student Union’s (LSU) list of demands.