Facing a Complacent Campus: A Lesson in Discomfort

After being jailed by the Columbus Police Department this summer, I am left with the impression that Emory students are complacent. I get the sense that many of their deepest concerns involve studying for a QTM exam, running for an SGA position, the Migos scandal or even getting a URC apartment. These individuals have failed Emory. They have ignored the most important responsibility Emory students ought to have — to engage seriously the work of positive social transformation.

On June 17, my Emory bubble burst. At the 2017 Stonewall Columbus Pride Parade, a group of individuals including myself, later dubbed the #BlackPride4, were arrested by officers of the Columbus Police Department, which has recently come under fire for officer involvement in the shooting deaths of Tyre King and Henry Green. Demonstrating peacefully against capitalist anti-blackness and transphobia, we were hit with pepper spray, bicycles and the fury of anti-blackness. I was arrested, charged with felony aggravated robbery and held on a bond (read: ransom) of $100,000. My Emory ID did not save me.

Our protest was rooted in the struggle against all forms of oppression, a conflict which ought to deeply permeate the Emory bubble. However, as the Fall semester begins, students will discuss the Charlottesville riots, unanimously denouncing the evils of fascism and Nazism, while ignoring racist, classist, transphobic, etc., commentary in their classes. They will discuss the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, disregarding how poor people of color, some of whom are Emory students, will be disproportionately affected by it. Therein lies complacency.

These self-satisfied students are a problem. They are the majority. They are proud to tell their friends at other schools that Emory’s president is an immigrant but remain oblivious to the deplorable conditions at the Stewart Detention Center, where Jean Jimenez-Joseph died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody after days of solitary confinement earlier this year. These students would jump at the chance to attend an Atlanta Falcons game at the pristine Mercedes-Benz Stadium, overlooking that its construction is a conduit for the gentrification of Atlanta’s Westside. This willful ignorance is a disservice to both the Emory community and the individuals who suffer in these circumstances.

In short, Emory students have got to do better.

Here are two steps we all should take to combat complacency and build a stronger, more inclusive, community at Emory and beyond.

First, get uncomfortable. Embrace the discomfort that is necessary for growth. This means having difficult interactions in the classroom, in the dorm, in the DUC-ling — wherever they are necessary. Call out your problematic professors and classmates, especially when you occupy a position of privilege with regard to the group they are targeting. When you go home for Thanksgiving break, call out your problematic family members too. It is up to you to decolonize your education. Remember that your momentary discomfort is essential to the safety of others.

Second, get outside of yourself. Over dinner with Emory alumnus Troizel Carr (15C), I posed the question: What advice would you give current undergraduates to be critical and accountable students? Now a graduate student at New York University, he noted that he would tell a younger Troizel to “get out of yourself.” In other words, challenge yourself to understand your Emory experience outside of your classes, clubs and even campus activism. Engage the histories of the city you are living in — a long-standing nexus for combatting many forms of oppression — and get involved locally in off-campus work where your energies are needed most.

We all will depart Emory one day, be it three months or three years from now, and we ought to have made it a better place for all than it was when we came. So do the hard self work, check your privilege, stand against injustice and get a degree while you do it.

Deandre Miles is a College senior from Hyattsville, Md.