Letter to the Editor 3 – Issue 11

Mahder Etuma

Dear Bucknell current and visiting students, faculty, staff, and administration,

“Nigger”

“Black people should be dead”

“Lynch ’em! ”

In the midst of the recent incident on the radio, I have lost hope for possibly bringing change to this campus.

I want to start by saying I am and will always be forever grateful for the various opportunities Bucknell has offered me thus far. To be quite honest, becoming a Posse scholar was the best thing to happen to me, given the reality of where I could have been had I not become a scholar. In the same token, however, I sometimes feel pressured to keep quiet about my story at Bucknell since I am afraid of losing my scholarship. I can’t help but feel a burden on my shoulders to act proper and always represent a happy student.

Prior to Bucknell, I attended Banneker Senior High School in D.C., whose student body was predominantly African Americans. There, I was able to accelerate in my studies and fight my way to end up here at Bucknell. Freshman year, I came to Bucknell with an open mind and was excited for what I was about to experience. Right at the start, I began to notice that I did not fit the typical Bucknell student. Everything about me was different, from my Jordan shoes to my tomboyish style to my Ethiopian accent, and I knew it would be hard for me to find my own identity while trying to fit in.

I desperately tried to join as many organizations as possible to occupy my free time; a plan I thought would help me avoid feeling like I did not fit. I tried to branch out and speak to faculty and staff, students, and even members of the town. I remember thinking that I should act as politely as possible even in heated situations because I did not want to become the angry black woman.

I quickly realized that my methods were not working. After getting into a fight with a white, male student on my hall freshman year, I realized that despite my effort, I would never feel welcomed nor supported. Although I was the one who was physically attacked, my RA tried desperately to warn me that if I wanted to be in good standing with the University, as I was hoping to become an RA, this was an unacceptable behavior. Rather, I should have walked away from the situation even if my reaction was in self-defense.

I remember thinking to myself that this was just a small experience of what it means to be a black student on campus. This was a moment where I had realized every opportunity Bucknell had offered and will offer me was going to be used against me. This was a reality I was not prepared for, especially as someone whose life circumstances did not allow me to protect myself. This was the beginning of my arduous journey at Bucknell.

When I decided to become an activist for human rights issues, I told myself that I was doing the right thing. Quite frankly, I strongly believe it is everyone’s obligation to fight against any type of injustice. I knew that writing this letter, or expressing how I felt, or even being one of the members in Bucknell2Ferguson, meant I was a target who would be facing some consequences. I knew that not only was I sacrificing my time, I also lost my family’s support, began struggling in my classes, and my physical and mental health was also compromised. This is to say that what I am feeling now is not something new.

For many of us, the incident on the radio was not the first time we felt this way. Last semester, the whole world heard about the news that Darren Wilson was not indicted for the shooting of Michael Brown. In response, a couple of activists and myself organized the Bucknell2Ferguson movement. By doing so, we received harsh criticism, disapproval from many of the staff, and even threats on Yik Yak. One of the Yik Yak posts said something along the lines of “You can protest my M16.”

As one of the many people involved in the movement, I began questioning everyone around me. I could not help myself from going to class and thinking, is the person to my left or right the one who posted that? Or is it the professor? Or an administrator? Posts like these are the reasons why I do not feel safe on campus. The school’s response to the direct threat was to start a private investigation that failed to notify members of the community of the progress. Once again, after sending out emails and ensuring this was not Bucknell, the actual problem quickly diminished and nothing was resolved. Even today, I still do not know whether or not an investigation was carried out, let alone completed.

Feeling like the administration did not protect me, I began to isolate myself from campus. I recall students asking me why I do not call Public Safety or the deans or someone who could help me feel safe on campus. But the truth is, after hearing various testimonies about the different racial discriminations faced by minority students from all over campus, I truly felt that there was no option for me. My trust in the administration for my safety quickly faded away. Nonetheless, I came back to this semester hoping things might be a little different. Ironically, I was once wrong again to assume that any real change would take place at Bucknell.

For me, the administration’s response to the incident on the radio was heartbreaking. Although this was not an isolated incident, this was the first time that I actually felt like my life does not matter to Bucknell. I feel like I am simply a dollar amount for Bucknell. After being contacted as the president of an organization to possibly come up with a solution to this incident, I hoped that the focus this time would be the victims rather than perpetrators. This was not the case. As a matter of fact, I have yet to receive information about how to cope with the incident and ways in which minority students can protect themselves. I have yet to hear various resources being offered for students like me who feel lost on this campus. I have yet to hear the series of steps that the administrators are implementing to prevent another incident like this. I have yet to hear that letters have been sent out to the parents explaining the events that took place in the last few weeks and what it means for their child. If they are being contacted to donate back, why haven’t they heard of the incident? I have yet to hear immediate actions that would guarantee my safety on campus today. I have yet to hear someone correct me when I say that Bucknell’s response is simply for protecting the institution rather than me.  I have yet to feel like I am worth something rather than nothing.

I lost hope. I do not give up but I gave up now. I give up in trying to get this institution to see the perspective of students like me. I give up in trying to pretend that I fit in this place. I give up in trying to hide my story because I am scared of what could happen to me. I am tired and burnt-out. I feel like I am not being heard and I am tired of feeling like I do not belong.

So my response to the recent events on campus is yet another assurance that I am nothing but a number. This was yet another opportunity for Bucknell to show me that I matter. Unfortunately, it appears to be otherwise.

If I am the greatest treasure that my parents gave to Bucknell, why am I not being protected?

Mahder Etuma

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