Rini Sampath may be the leader of the University of Southern California's student body, but that doesn't make her immune to racially-charged attacks. In a moving statement posted to Facebook, Sampath claims a member of a USC fraternity called her an "Indian piece of shit," and hurled a drink at her through an open window as she was walking home from a friend's apartment. The incident was wholly unprompted, and left Sampath reeling. She described her feelings in the post, writing:
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.
Sampath, who was born in India, has dealt with racism on campus before. She told the Washington Post that she would have a better chance of winning the presidency if she selected a white man as a running mate. (She didn't, and still won.) In her post, Sampath addresses common reactions to accusations of racism in progressive environments:
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… 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.
Sampath also pointed out that Payton Head, president of the student association at the University of Missouri, has also been called racial slurs on his campus. "This isn’t an isolated incident. It happens everywhere," she wrote.
The incident, she wrote, left her feeling "an indescribable hollowness." And, she pointed out, violent language is not isolated from violent actions. "You Indian piece of shit” is the type of language attackers have used before brutally murdering someone. "Just look at Inderjit Singh Mukker," Sampath wrote. Mukker, a Sikh, was allegedly told, “Terrorist, go back to your country, Bin Laden!” before he was assaulted.
USC's Dean of Religious Life, Varun Soni, told the Washington Post that the incident was unacceptable, but that it could serve as a way to open up a discussion on campus. “USC and higher education in general tries to look at incidences like this as learning and growing opportunities…we want to create a dialogue," he said.
An opinion piece published in USC's Daily Trojan urging action pointed out that this isn't the first time the school has been the site of racist incidents:
Trojans know that inclusivity is a problem at USC. In Spring 2013, nearly 80 LAPD officers aggressively broke up a house party primarily attended by black students, arresting six students in the process. USC’s response was to hold a public forum, but little changed.
Sampath, also, is hoping for a change. She told the Washington Post, "Apologies don’t fix these deep wounds."
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.