I don’t know whom I am voting for in the 2015-2016 Student Senate elections, but I do know that I will no longer be voting for Ryant Taylor, and by extension the entire BARE ticket. Ryant, a member of the Student Union, was a primary organizer of the infamous BAT Rally last month, which was a protest of the gross misuse of university funds to lease and possibly purchase a new presidential residence located at 31 Coventry Lane.
While the rally itself was valid and much needed, the methodology of promoting the rally was highly problematic. The Facebook event page “BAT RALLY”, which was administered by Ryant and other members of the Student Union, was quickly dubbed with a Batman theme, and included memes that comically turned the President’s mansion into a bat cave. However, the page was quickly hijacked by members outside of the Student Union with memes that portrayed President McDavis in an extremely racialized manner. These photos played on the historical themes of animalizing Black men, sexualizing Black men, and criminalizing Black men. While these photos were extremely problematic, they garnered many “likes” and comments from several members of the Student Union, staff members of OU and even faculty members/professors.
I was shocked to see that these photos were not only allowed to remain on the page through the weekend leading up to the BAT RALLY, but encouraged other photos to be placed, including one which placed Deborah McDavis riding an elephant, playing up numerous tropes that connects Blacks with Africa and serves to animalize Black people. Regardless of whether or not this was the intention of those who created these photos and placed them on the Facebook page, this is how others and myself perceived it. This “innocent” attempt at humor in fact perpetuates systemic racism within our society.
I was outraged that these photos were not only on the BAT RALLY Facebook event page, but were allowed to remain there for several days. The administrators of the page, Ryant Taylor being one of them, and other members of the Student Union, a group that (rightfully so and should) constantly advocates for ending institutionalized racism, sexism, trans-phobia, homophobia and so one, did nothing about these photos. However, when I called out the racism on the page and pointed out that many of these photos were indeed racist, I was met with immediate backlash and aggression.
Furthermore, I proceeded to receive a Facebook message from Ryant, whom I do not personally know and have never had contact with, thanking me for pointing out the racism on the page and that he acknowledges that he was conflicted with the images himself, but ultimately decided not to do anything about it. He went on to tell me that he would have preferred that I sent him or another event organizer a private Facebook message instead of “causing drama” on the page.
Other members of student union and administrators of the page also privately reached out to me to express issues with my decision to publically call out racism on the page. One member of Student Union who contacted me included Jessica Ensley, who writes an opinion column for this very publication and often advocates calling out prejudice, racism, homophobia, trans-phobia, and so one as we see it. She expressed to me in her message that she also thought that the photos were racist, including the one she posted depicting Deborah McDavis riding an elephant. Despite her unease with how the photo portrays racist tropes, she expressed to me that she posted it anyway and did not publically call out racism on the page because she “didn’t want to take away from the message of the rally.”
Ryant, and by extension fellow members of the Student Union who publically advocate for the BARE ticket though social media, letters to the editor and even a weekly column in The Post, effectively tried to silence me for publically calling out racism. My post, which “stirred drama” on the page was deleted. The racist photos were deleted and replaced with a statement saying that the Student Union does not condone the use of racism, but only after the photos had been on the page for several days and after I decided to publically acknowledged and call out what was happening. I am fully convinced that had I not said anything publically, the photos would not have been removed and no such statement about not condoning racism would have been issued.
What is even more problematic is that Ryant was willing to allow racism in order to further the cause of his own belief. This is unacceptable behavior and rhetoric for a potential future leader of Student Senate. Ryant, and those on the ticket who are also members of the Student Union, must be held accountable for their actions. As a member of the LGBT community myself, I was enthusiastic and excited about the BARE ticket because it represents visibility and exemplification of marginalized student populations on campus. As the only ticket with leaders of minority race and sexuality groups, it was truly exciting to finally have the potential for a student senate that was more representative of the entire student body. However, I cannot stand with the tactic of allowing racism to persist, or condone the use of racism, in order to further a cause that someone believes in, nor am I okay with being silenced for publically calling out racism as I see it. For the above reasons, I can no longer support the BARE ticket.
Serrott is a student at Ohio University who works in the OU Women’s Center.