Lonsdorf: No, That Was Not the End of the Discussion

Staff Writer Jack Trabucco wrote an article this week explaining how he feels about Managing Editor Tara Lonsdorf's professional experiences. Except, he didn't live them. So now, she explains it back to him. - Photo via Pixabay

Managing Editor’s Note: Since publishing my recent article about hostility I’ve encountered as a student journalist, I’ve received overwhelming support from students, staff and faculty alike. One such supporter, Jack Trabucco, is also a staff writer for The Whit, and he wished to share his thoughts in the form of an article, specifically about an incident I described involving vague allegations of racism.

I feel that Trabucco and I disagreed on the main takeaway of the incident, and I am the only true authority on my own experiences. However, I acknowledge that Trabucco’s belief is one that many people, both inside and outside the Rowan community, share. For this reason, I believe it is The Whit’s editorial duty to publish his arguments.

This article is an agreed-upon “response” to Trabucco’s article, giving my own insight into the specifics of “callout culture.”  

In my role on The Whit, I am not just a leader of a traditional student club. I am a leader of a platform used by the Rowan and Glassboro communities to engage with the experiences, initiatives, events, beliefs and lives of our whole Rowan ecosystem. The Whit sets the tone for what is (or should be) socially and culturally important to the entire community, and leadership here comes with that extra responsibility.

When reporting on university-sponsored programming really meant as entertainment for students, this job can be considered “less serious.” But other times, it can be considered “more serious,” such as when we dive into matters of collective health, inequity, justice and the material state of our community. It is especially serious when it comes to matters impacting our community’s most vulnerable members – specifically, the student body. Within the monolith of “the student body,” though, are members who are more vulnerable than others: food-insecure students; disabled students; students with dependents; students experiencing discrimination based on gender, race or ethnicity.

The more vulnerable a population is and the more likely it is that their needs are currently being overlooked by the existing culture and its power structures, the more it needs media and the news.

The Whit is a majority-white organization led by two white women. We would both like to think we are good, progressive people who are not racist (who ideally could never be racist)… but we were both raised by white families in a culture that views whiteness as “neutral” while also attaching to it social, political and economic privileges. We can do our best to unlearn those biases, but a lifelong process of intentional and sometimes-faltering deprogramming does not change the fact that we see ourselves more readily in other white people. When we set priorities of what we want to see covered within The Whit, we bring those biases with us, whether we want to think we do or not.

Intentionally or not, if The Whit neglects how our own community will engage with issues related to race and racism (because it happens not to catch the interest of two white women setting the agenda), The Whit sets a tone that the needs and interests of that group should be unimportant to the entire community.

That impact is racist.

“Racist” is not a dirty word to call someone. It is also rarely a misused word. “Racist” is a word that describes actions, not people – the same way that “irresponsible,” “rude” and “harmful” describe actions, not people. That is to say, if you act that way often enough, other people around you will assume that’s just your neutral state. If you don’t want people to think that you embody any of these traits, you need to act in ways counter to them: to be responsible, courteous, helpful and, yes, anti-racist.

I understand the shame associated with having other people see you differently than how you see yourself. I grew up neurodivergent and consistently confused about why other people would get mad at me. I didn’t mean to cross someone else’s boundaries, or make someone upset with my words, or cause hurt when I would act impulsively. I didn’t mean to create the impacts that other people were accusing me of. Why, I thought, should I apologize for something I didn’t mean to do? I spent a lot of my middle childhood caught in this unproductive loop, wondering why my peers and the adults around me couldn’t seem to understand that I was a good kid.

Part of growing up, though, has been learning to take accountability for how I treat other people. After all, I may disagree that something should have hurt someone’s feelings, but denying the impact my actions had won’t actually solve conflict with that person. It will just send them the message that I care more about my own ego and sense of righteousness than I do about our relationship.

Take it from someone who’s been there: being ego-driven and needing to constantly prove you’re “right” about other people’s emotions is not the mark of someone who is logical. It is the mark of someone is most likely very, very lonely.

To have a community worth living in, we must all be responsible for how we treat one another. We must all step up to acknowledge the damage caused, and then fix it. This is especially vital for those of us in leadership roles, but it should be expected of all of us.

You shouldn’t need “facts” or “evidence” or “proof” of how you’ve hurt someone to accept that their pain is real. You should only need compassion.

While I personally don’t think that the incident described in my most recent opinion article – the one Trabucco wished to shed commentary on – was particularly racist, I also don’t think it matters what I think. I do not know what it’s like to experience racism, because I am white. No white person (and this includes Trabucco) is the authority on what actions do and do not constitute racism.

It takes an intense kind of arrogance to talk over people of color and say that, actually, you are the only person in the argument who gets to define “racism” and then arbitrate when the word gets to be used.

That’s why our reporter went back and covered the issue. We weren’t just trying to appease the staff member in question; we knew we had messed up, and we wanted to fix it. We chose our duty to represent our community over whatever smug satisfaction there would have been in brushing it off. I am honestly at peace with the matter.

If you’re hurt that someone called you racist as a response to your actions or words, think about how much you probably hurt them by doing the thing in the first place. If someone is coming to you with feedback on your treatment of them, it is childish to insist that your actions are magically immune to having impacts beyond your intent. Everyone messes up. Even you.

No human being will ever be perfect. The best we can do, in the absence of perfection, is to be transparent when we are not.

For comments/questions about this story, tweet @TheWhitOnline.