As the news was unfolding about protests in Ferguson, Missouri yesterday, I was reading my Ethics students’ papers about social issues, including racism. One of my students shared a personal story that was powerful, and I asked her if I could share it with future classes. I am going to share it with you all as well.
As a student in college years ago, she took a job at the college gym. Her supervisor told her that if anyone came into the gym who looked like they did not belong there, she should walk over and offer them a tour, as this often discouraged trouble makers. As a black woman, this troubled her, as she had many experiences feeling unwelcome and suspect, and she asked her supervisor what qualified people as “not-belonging”. Her supervisor told her that she would just know. Feeling uncomfortable with this task, she opted out of the job.
Weeks later, she returned to the gym to exercise, and a student-worker stopped her and asked her if she wanted a tour. When she became angry, and demanded to know why she was being stopped, the worker called the campus police, and she was barred from the gym.
Her protest was seen as proof that she did not belong.