Taj Smith, director of diversity education, discusses #AntiRacismatRIT campaign

After taking a day to process through all the support and questioning, as the Director of Diversity Education at RIT, I decided to share my thoughts on RIT’s new Anti-Racism campaign. I share not in defense, but to expand the conversation past assumptions and judgments.

We all have opinions and ideas on how to best move forward in addressing racism. At RIT, we are taking a multi-dimensional approach because we are a pluralistic and work-in-progress community. 

As a concerned citizen, bridge builder, and a Black man, it is true that we must center Black and other voices of color immediately and more often. It is also true that centering too much puts the burden on communities of color to instruct or do the important work of change. Whether centered on Instagram or centered in decision making that most don’t get to see, I’m confident that we as an institution are thinking more deeply about the experiences and incorporating suggestions of marginalized groups.

As an institution, we serve a range of students, staff, and faculty and life experiences. As a result, each group needs different tools to work towards a common goal. This focus on inviting and engaging White men on our campus is critical to realizing an anti-racist environment. Too often white men, as a group, aren’t involved in these critical conversations or attend trainings available to them. Too often, our young white men only have role models of hate rather than ones of accountability. It is not designed to give them a participation sticker or tell people of color how to lead.

I look at this as an opportunity (one of many) to call White folks into this collective work. I accept the complex work of both centering groups who have been disenfranchised from having a voice and supporting those who want to help end the larger problem. I accept that people of color shouldn’t always lead, especially in a problem they didn’t create. I look at my colleagues of color who are tired of leading in their offices or departments and want their white peers to take on this work. I get asked where are the White people? Where are the ones that really need to be here? Are they doing this work? Will they actually apply what they’ve learned from your workshops? I get from committed White people questions about how to enact change within themselves and institutionally. In my eyes, this campaign addresses these concerns.

We may disagree in strategy, but let us remain on the same road despite the different ways we may travel to it. I invite you to dream and take chances to expand your toolkit for a better world.