Sunday, November 1, 2015

What We Didn’t Talk About - Race and Diversity

By Maria Cardona

On a chilly fall Wednesday night at 7:40, 7 shots are heard in downtown Ashland. A single bullet strikes a Chinese restaurant where outside, a group of Americans and Asians stood conversing. The shots startle and frighten the group as a car drives away somewhere between the Church and West Second street intersection. Relief washes over the group; no one was harmed.

Four days go by. The buzz about the seemingly random shooting has died down quite a bit, when suddenly email alerts go off everywhere. Staff and students from the University all open up an email and concern and fear takes hold of them. The vagueness of it all inspires fright in the community worried about themselves and the rest of the student body.

It is then all revealed in multiple news reports: The shooting was not as random as previously thought but an act of racial violence. While it has become clear that the victims of this horrid crime are Asians, many questions are left unanswered. Who would do such a thing? Why would they do it in the first place? And, is everyone truly safe?

More news reports surface and suspects are taken into custody, but three words stick out from the page: charges are pending. Seph Valentine, a 32 year old and Tammy Lunsford, 54 have been apprehended and the community is alerted that once more, we are safe. But in reality, are we?

With no knowledge of charges being brought up yet, and the disconcerting revelation that Valentine had been convicted in 2010 after “making and leaving homemade bombs in public places,” (Mansfield News Journal) how could we feel truly safe? We were being pushed back into the bubble of the safe, small town dream, but this only filled us with a false sense of security.

While it is true that Valentine did serve out his sentence, and stronger charges were not pressed because the bombs were not capable of detonation, Valentine still intended for these to function properly and harm others. As I read the article from the Mansfield News Journal, an important piece of the puzzle is uncovered. Valentine is a schizophrenic which might give some insight into why he’s committed these crimes but the article concludes by stating that “during his 2010 trial, he was declared competent to stand trial.” Unsettling feelings resurface once more as it’s clear that his condition is no excuse.

Multiple articles on the shooting spread through social media like wildfire as the students vocalize their concern, yet by Wednesday/Thursday it seems as if the buzz has died down. I came into this short class week expecting students and/or professors to reference the violence that had ensued just 0.6 miles from our campus, but nothing was said.

Classes went on as normal and professors expressed that they hoped we had a “nice fall break,” but the shooting went by completely unspoken of. It was jarring to me and some of my fellow students to realize that we were apparently going to ignore this. We seemed perfectly content with the news that suspects were apprehended and we were “out of danger,” but are we truly in the clear?

If 5 years ago this man had committed a crime and after 3½ years in prison he committed another, what’s to say that Valentine won’t do it again and again? And if not Valentine, what’s to say that someone else won’t come into our small town and commit a crime of a similar nature? Our false sense of security and the fact that we keep our guard down because “it’s Ashland” paints a huge, red target on our town.

I am not suggesting that we should live in constant fear and are plagued by paranoia of crime being around the corner, but we need to stop using “it’s Ashland” as an excuse. Yes, we live in a small town. Yes, most of the time it’s calm and quiet. But we can’t ignore the days when it’s not.

Perhaps there is more to us ignoring this than just the belief that we are safe in our small town bubble. It is clear to anyone that our campus is mostly Caucasian students, and perhaps it is the lower rates in diversity that we experience that bring about this carelessness. While I do not claim that it is intentional, some students might have ignored the facts because it didn’t directly affect them.

However, what happens in our community happens to all of us. We need to stand together; worry together, and more importantly we can’t sweep the issues under the rug and pretend they’re not there. An important conversation needs to take place, I believe, on race and discrimination.

Many are blind to racism nowadays because they see racism as something overt, but that is not the racism of our day. While clearly the shooting was an obvious racial attack, it is microagressions that plague our world today. Unless we learn to recognize these and talk about race openly and respectfully, we will make no progress.

So let’s talk about race and racism, let’s talk about microagressions, and let’s talk about prejudice. Let’s clear up some stereotypes, let’s love each other for who we are instead of what we look like. Ashland University has a growing diversity rate and these students are not different from anyone else. We are all AU Eagles so let’s talk about this shooting and move forward, stronger and more united than ever before.

Maria Cardona is a junior at Ashland University and an intern with the Ashland Center for Nonviolence.

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