SOU and the Black Student Revisited

For Southern Oregon University (SOU) Black’s students, upon arrival a new reality starts to set in. The visual cues are unmistakable.

Every Black college student choosing to reside in the Rogue Valley - Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford - must come to a certain peace about the experience before them.

For an extended period of time they are going to learn what it feels like to be almost entirely surrounded by (so-called) White people. It dominates the person of color’s psyche.

Raising quite a few questions about campus safety for students of color, on Monday, May 18, 2020 for the second time in 2020, the Campus Administration reported the public display of a racial slur inside the Shasta dormitory.

In late February, local station Channel 5 KOBI broadcasted a story detailing a Black student, serving as a resident aid, targeted for a hate crime, when the n-word was written in large letters across their Shasta dormitory door.

Apparently, Campus Administration has done little to address the racial atmosphere on campus.

The reporting of this incident gives Ashland an opportunity for the community to discuss how Black and Brown-bodied persons experience the self-proclaimed progressive, hippie town.

The following thoughts are from Bathscheba Duronvil, the outspoken President of the Black Student Union on SOU campus. Her entire time in the Rogue Valley is defined by race. She answered these two questions as a Freshman, and these words were originally published in late November 2018.

1) Why did you assume a position of leadership inside the BSU? There are not a lot of Black people in Southern Oregon, why is there a need for the club? Are there enough members to justify a club?

“There are numerous reasons why I stepped up and took the leadership position for BSU. For starters, I am new to Ashland (and the West side in general) so I didn’t know what to expect when coming here. It never occured to me that there would be such a lack of diversity in such a “pro-black”, pro-lgbt+ community. For my first month here, I felt so alone to the point where I isolated myself from everyone, because there were barely any people of color here. It sounds selfish, but one of the reasons I took the leadership position was so I wouldn’t feel that lonely and be surrounded by Black people.

But the biggest reason I took the leadership position was because everytime I brought BSU up to students, some would trash our name. It wasn’t until I sat at my first BSU meeting that I believed the rumors people were saying. BSU is funded so well and has all the support it needs… but they don’t really do anything. And I couldn’t take it anymore, so I kind of just suddenly threw my opinions to BSU on what we should do and the members loved it. So gradually I became the vice president as a freshman at SOU.

Where do I even begin on how much this school, this town and this state needs to be educated on Black culture? I transferred from Minnesota and have been in Oregon for about two months now and my experience here has been different in a scents of how racism is presented. Back in Minnesota, I describe the form of racism I grew up in as “republican racism.” People were more outloud to call me a nigger and I could clearly see the uncomfortableness in White peoples faces as I walked down the streets at night.

It was easy to spot racism in Minnesota because people showed racism physically. Here on the other hand, in this small bubble of a town, racism is more mentally aggravating. My first week I was here I was actually really happy. It came to a shock to me of how nice people were to me as I walked down the street. Everyone wanted to talk with me and I felt as if all the attention was all on me.

But heading into the third week I was here I realized that their stares were not friendliness, but microaggression instead. I realized that the White people here looked at me as if I was some new exotic artifact in a museum. They looked at me with awe, like they wanted to touch me because they never seen a Black person before. And all they wanted to talk about with me was things regarding “Black culture,” as if I was their gateway into my community.

No I didn’t hear about the new Yeezys coming out, yes this is my real hair (I lied… they’re extensions), no you may not touch it, and please convince your son not to wear cornrows because he thinks they’re “cool.”

I’m not saying I haven't experienced this in Minnesota, but there's just this certain mentality in this town where White people assume they’re not racist because they “talk to Black people,” or “support us,” when in actuality, they only “associate” with us to go back to their White friends to tell them they associate with Black people!

So in conclusions, there is a need for this club because this town needs to be highly educated on their microaggression and extreme racism. Moving to the next question, I definitely hope in the near future there will be more black members that join BSU, but for now the 8 that we have will make a difference to this community.”

2) Are you finding much pushback from the other clubs or students to the presence of the BSU?

BD: “Not yet since we’ve just begun. My only fear is that because this college is such a pro-lgbt, pro-woman, “pro-black” school they won’t acknowledge their homophobia, sexism and racism when it comes down to it. I fear they will try to ignore their ignorance and get mad because they assume they’re above other schools, when honestly they may be as ignorant as anyone else. When I was handing out fliers for the Soul Food event coming up, I had a former BSU member come up and speak with me. She explained how the BSU leader they had when she was a freshman was forced to resign because they were talking about Black issues “too extreme” for the White mind. White people got too upset as if their uncomfortableness trumped our existence as black people in America.”

It appears Duronvil’s fears were very well-founded.

The question before the Ashland community is what to do with the knowledge of how it is received by young, Black and Brown bodies.

I have a few ideas. However, the premise for implementation of those ideas does not factor in leadership from young people. No. The leadership to address racism in the Rogue Valley should not come from our children.

I am very open towards proposing a series of solutions. Those solutions require a commitment towards greater and greater humanity by we Elders.

Now, the question becomes: Does the commitment exist inside of Ashland’s White community?

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Kokayi Nosakhere

Kokayi Nosakhere

Black man living in Oregon's Rogue Valley, teaching pathways to greater humanity. Community organizer! Author. Speaker. Workshop facilitator. Royalstar907@gmail