May 04, 2021 11:01 AM

Fort Hays State student to white allies: 'Fight for me'

Posted May 04, 2021 11:01 AM
FHSU students Leo Harzman; Anniston Weber; Chyler Backstrom; Daisi Brand, president of the FHSU Psychology Club and moderator; Demetrius Chance; and Jetta Smith participated Friday in a panel discuss titled "How to be an Ally?"
FHSU students Leo Harzman; Anniston Weber; Chyler Backstrom; Daisi Brand, president of the FHSU Psychology Club and moderator; Demetrius Chance; and Jetta Smith participated Friday in a panel discuss titled "How to be an Ally?"

By CRISTINA JANNEY
Hays Post

Demetrius Chance, Fort Hays State University student and founder of the nonprofit Can You See Me?, said black Americans have been historically treated like animals.

They have not had a voice, but allies have voices in situations black Americans don't, he said.

"Fight for me," he said told a audience of about 30 people Friday night.

Chance and a panel of  four other FHSU students came together Friday on the college campus for a panel discussion titled "How to be an Ally." The panel, which was sponsored by the FHSU Psychology Club, was made up of students of color as well as members of the LGBTQ community.

Chance said allies have to be ready for push back. He said Anniston Weber, fellow student and panel member, stood up for minority students on social media and was the target of attacks herself as a result.

Language and listening

Chyler Backstrom, FHSU KAMS student who has served as vice president of the FHSU's Black Student Union, said she thought one of the most important aspects of being an ally is to listen to people who are in other cultural groups.

The group talked about using appropriate language when talking to or referring to members of the LGBTQ community and people of color.

Leo Harzman, FHSU student, is non-binary, which is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is neither man or woman, according to lgbthero.org. 

"See me as I see myself," Harzman said. "I also want other people to see me as I see myself."

Harzman uses the they/their/them pronouns.

"As a non-binary person, I have to explain what non-binary is almost every time, and it's exhausting," they said.

Harzman urged people to go beyond Twitter or social media to better understand issues and the correct language to use with members of the LGBTQ community.

Harzman and Backstrom are both members of the LGBTQ community. They both use the word "queer" to identify themselves. However, they noted that word has been used in the past as a slur, and heterosexual people should refrain from using the term.

Jetta Smith, FHSU student, said allies can have better understanding of culture and language if they have personal conversations with people of color.

"I'm always on campus," she said. "You can walk up to me, and I don't mind explaining certain things to certain people. 

"We are the future leaders of this world, and we want to educate ourselves more," she said. "Can we go to coffee? Can we have this normal conversation so you can explain me your perspective, and I can explain my perspective?"

Having a thick skin

Weber has served as an ally on campus.

"I would say be willing to accept criticism and be open to change," she said.

Smith those tough conversations may begin with your own friends and family. She said her own grandmother made racist comments to her. When she was a young teenager, she started to sweat more. Her grandmother said it was the minority in her.

"That was from somebody that I loved," she said. "How do you have those conversations, and how do I explain to her, 'It's not that I am a minority. It's that I am a four-sport child. ...

"It's going to be uncomfortable, and it's going to be hard, but once you feel comfortable in those awkward situations, I think that is when the best conversations happen."

Harzman said trans people have to fight the perception that they are predators.

"'Oh, that trans woman wants to go into a woman's bathroom, what's going to happen to my children?'" Harzman said. "No, they just want to go pee. They aren't going to harm your kids."

Harzman said by immersing yourself in an unfamiliar community or culture, you can unlearn some of the biases you've learned in your own culture or community.

"It is not a pretty world out there, when we want change," they said.

Stand up, speak out

Backstrom said when a white person sees an instance of racism, they need to use his or her privilege to stand up and speak up.

"If you see a person following me or an attack and you are a white person, you have a lot to say," she said. "You have to do something. If you can't or you are not able to, find somebody else who can.

"The worst thing you can do is stand by and let the injustice happen," she said. "You cannot be docile in the face of an aggressor."

Weber also urged her peers to "Call it out. Call them out."

Chance urged white peers to use their privilege to advocate for people of color.

"Use the voice we are fighting to get," he said. "You already have it. We are fighting for our voice. We are fighting for people to listen, to comprehend, to understand where we are coming from."

Smith urged her peers, especially student athletes, to use their own power. She cited athlete protests at the University of Missouri and the University of Oklahoma. 

She said allies need to advocate for injustice every day, not just on what they consider big issue.

"If you can't be trusted to stand up for the little things," she said. "Can we really trust you to stand up for the big things?"