Our June Brown Girl of the Month, Rini Sampath, did something many want to do after dealing with outright racism.
The student body president of the University of Southern California had a drink hurled at her and was called, “you Indian piece of sh*t.” She could have responded with anger or quietly walked away, but she did something bigger and better. She made a public plea urging the USC community to think about the notion of the “other” and more so, she shared her experience on her Facebook Timeline, which garnered more than 10,000 “likes” and 1,500 “shares.”
On September 20, 2015, she wrote:
“Last night, as I was walking back from my friend’s apartment, a student screamed out at me through the window of his fraternity house, ‘You Indian piece of shit!’ before hurling his drink at my friends and me. Once his fraternity brothers realized it was me, they began to apologize. This stung even more. Today, as I try to unpack these events, I couldn’t quite figure out why their after-the-fact apologies deepened the wound. But one of my friends explained it to me the best this morning: ‘Because now you know, the first thing they see you as is subhuman.’ And that’s the first thing some students on our campus see when they look at anyone who looks like me.
This was the same fraternity that kicked out a peer of mine from their tailgate after calling him a ‘fag.’ That’s sickening.
I’m still in a state of shock. There’s an indescribable hollowness in me, but I’m going public with this because this can’t continue. Some people don’t believe racism like this can happen on our campus. Some people continue to doubt the need for safe spaces and the need for expanded cultural resource centers or the need for gender neutral bathrooms or the need for diversity in our curriculum or the need for diversity in our professors or the need for diversity in dialogue. And to those who continue to believe we’re just playing the ‘race’ card, I ask you this — what’s there to win here? A sense of respect? A sense of humanity? A sense of love and compassion for others regardless of how they look like?
This isn’t an isolated incident. It happens everywhere. Last week, individuals in a pick-up truck yelled racial slurs at Mizzou’s Student Body President, Payton Head. Who knows what will happen to someone who looks like me today?
‘You Indian piece of shit’ is the type of language attackers have used before brutally murdering someone. Just look at Inderjit Singh Mukker. ‘You Indian piece of shit’ are words used to humiliate someone for who they are. ‘You Indian piece of shit’ continues to ring so loudly in my ears I still can’t shake it from me.
Whether racism or sexism or homophobia or transphobia happens on the internet, or behind closed doors, or in a small group setting, or as ‘just a joke,’ it’s not okay. It’s never okay.
I was surrounded by nearly ten of my friends when this happened last night. I’m glad I was, because I don’t know what I would have done if I was alone. They consoled me by telling me, ‘Whatever you do the next morning will be the right thing.’
Well, I really don’t know what to do. For now, this is my public plea. I don’t know if what I have written here is enough, because there aren’t enough words in the world to summarize the experiences of people who look like me and what they go through every, single day.
We lost a football game last night, SC. But I think there’s something bigger, much bigger that we’re losing here. And we have to get it back.”
On September 22, 2015, she wrote:
“I am so touched by the outpouring of love and support I have received from everyone. Thank you for taking the time to be so kind in your words. I never expected for my story to have this reach. But, there are other voices and stories that often go unheard.
What happened on our campus on Saturday is not an isolated incident: It is happening on campuses across the nation and it is the result of a climate of intolerance that accepts hateful speech and actions. We have the power to change that climate. The internet is powerful. Community is powerful. We are powerful. And I believe that through our community we can root out the bigotry and hatred.
We are staring in the face at some of the issues our campus advocacy groups have been fighting for years now. But with the national spotlight upon us, in addition to the dialogues we have started, we must find tangible solutions – and we must continue this process together. Here’s my question to you: What can we and what can our administration do on our campus to change this culturally embedded problem?
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts so we can continue to create the kind of environment that we all deserve to live in. As we coordinate efforts through various departments and offices, this must be our thought process. Many people have asked how they can help. This is it. We must rise from these moments together. Our student government and I want to hear from you.
Coretta Scott King said, ‘Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.’ Well, this is our chance to engage in that struggle and do our part in this fight.”
On September 27, 2015, she wrote:
A week has passed since my story went viral. Since then, the university put out a statement encouraging others to report incidents of bias. While our university has noted this letter has led to the reporting of more incidents of bias within the past week than within the past year, it’s not enough. There’s so much more to accomplish, and we’ve known this for years now.
I understand the anger and frustration. Encouraging reporting isn’t enough. Words of apology aren’t enough. It’s difficult to find confidence in reporting procedures when we do not know the effectiveness of such systems. It’s difficult to trust in words of sympathy when deep inside, you are left to question if such words are merely apathy in disguise.
And it’s not as if my narrative is anything new: The USChangemovement was formed in 2013 as a response to how black students on this campus are treated. The RISE Alliance and sexual assault prevention advocates have fought against the silencing of survivors. Our cultural resource centers and cultural assemblies have routinely asked for greater resources, support and space to help the students they serve.
This is why, for some students, it’s frustrating to see my story receive so much coverage from everyone from the Times to Teen Vogue to Washington Post. I get it. After all, why is my story any more valid than the stories of my peers? It’s not.
This story is not about me. Yes, I chose to speak up, but so have my peers for years now: They have spoken up through Title IX complaints, through meetings with administrators, through student government resolutions. So, to the media: My story has sold you papers, it has earned you clicks, likes, and shares. There are students who do not hold the same office as me, but whose lived experiences are equally as important, if not more important than mine. So I ask you to do this — please, report on these narratives. Your microphones, cameras, and pens have a transformative power.
To the USC administration: As simple as it is to ask the student body to come up with the innovative solutions to these problems, the onus is on you to move proactively instead of reactively. We can’t wait for 700 angry students to fill a ballroom only for the administration to move on from the issue after the news cameras leave. News cycles will pass, but prejudice does not.
My colleagues at Undergraduate Student Government and I urge you to attend the forum on Wednesday entitled,“Voices of USC: The Diversity Climate on Campus,” from 5 pm to 6:30 PM in Ronald Tutor Campus Center Room 450. Administrators, including our Provost, will be in attendance (http://on.fb.me/1FBFfm5). This is only the continuation of a discussion that has taken place for many years.
This is a human rights issue that is not limited to one community. It is pervasive throughout our campus. We have all been, at some point in our lives, made to feel lesser than what we are. We need allies from all communities to participate if we want to make progress.
Yes, there will be those who believe speaking out brings bad publicity to our university. Yet, if we are truly committed to the betterment of USC, we must face these challenges head-on. There will be those who subscribe to a victim-blaming mindset and doubt the veracity of our testimonies, despite what convincing evidence there is (as my little sister pointed out, some people still doubt the moon landing). There will be those who attempt to trivialize our experiences or find it so bothersome to discuss these issues.
These are the opinions we can only hope to change through education and awareness. And in the meantime, we cannot forget about those who are invested in these principles. There is a certain side of history for us to choose to be on, and I know the majority of my peers will choose the right one, despite what hatred there still is in our world. We cannot let the negativity derail the cause to validate the experiences of our peers and find solutions for injustice; we must remain steadfast in our values and continue the pursuit of justice.
It’s your turn. It has always been your turn. See you on Wednesday.
Fighting on always,
To say we are proud of Sampath’s actions is an understatement. Her zero-tolerance type of attitude towards racism is something we all need to take from. We ask you to please share our story so that more brown girls can value their worth as South Asians who have come a long way from stereotypical, racist taunts about being cab drivers and gas station owners.