When They Came for Me, by Rudy Martinez
Six months ago, I graduated with a philosophy degree from Texas State University in San Marcos, TX. What was promised to be a day of jubilation for my family, as I am a first-generation Colombian and the first in my family to ever attend an American institute of higher education, was instead welcomed with a reluctant sigh of relief. My parents both escaped a decades-long civil war in Colombia and met in Miami in the early-90s. They would marry in September 1991 and I would be born March 21st, 1992. We grew up in a predominately Latinx working-class neighborhood in Miami called Hialeah. The only thing my mother ever asked of my younger sister and I is that we go to college. Hialeah wasn’t exactly a place that nurtured my intellectual potential, but I managed to attend community college right after high school. Within two years, I had dropped out and decided to hitchhike around the country. After returning from the road, I made new friends and we all moved to Texas: This is how I found Texas State. After waiting a year to qualify for in-state tuition, I became a “Bobcat” in the fall of 2015. As a philosophy student at a “Hispanic Serving” institution, I was excited to synthesize my cultural past with an intellectual future.
For the last year, I have feared for, not only my life, but those closest to me. This is because a year ago I was working for the student-run paper The University Star and I was compelled, after witnessing racial relations devolve over my years of study and the emboldened attitudes of white supremacists, to write an opinion column denouncing “whiteness.” Our school had become a microcosm of the country—we had a conservative student body president, Connor Clegg, an ersatz of Donald Trump who refused to critically address white supremacist propaganda found on our campus, and regularly and unfairly condemned student journalists with accusations of bias. It was frustrating and disheartening, so I decided to write a column I deemed a “declaration of war” on the bigots in and around our campus. I titled it “Your DNA is an Abomination.” It was meant to be an ontological assault on a malleable identity, whiteness, that serves to attain and maintain power—and it has done as such over the course of the last 500 years. My words were inspired by the writings of Malcolm X, Frantz Fanon, and Kendrick Lamar. The title was a reference to a popular song by Lamar, “DNA.” These were works I had taken the opportunity to critically examine as a college student. I was honored and excited to integrate their ideas into my work with the Star.
My expectation was that it would start a spirited dialogue on campus around white privilege and white normality in a university setting with experts and intellectuals of all types. Instead, the likes of Alex Jones and Tucker Carlson were quick to denounce my essay based on the title and mischaracterized my essay as advocating “genocide.” Dr. Trauth did not try to meet with me but instead, reacting to right-wing media pressure, sent a school-wide e-mail where she stated that she was “deeply troubled” upon reading my “racist” column. She threatened the newspaper with defunding unless they issued a humiliating apology, which they did. Dr. Trauth also made the newspaper staff destroy every copy of the paper that could be found and scrub my essay from the website. She has never reached out to me to discuss the column nor its content. Had she done so, we could have had a discussion concerning the language I used and worked to address the concerns that led to the article in the first place. However, Dr. Trauth mishandled the fallout of the column and failed in her duty to keep me, an undergraduate student at a state university, safe knowing full well that there were numerous people in and around our community who wanted to physically harm me.
The harassment began upon the publication of the article and I received hundreds of phone calls, text messages, Facebook DMs, e-mails, etc. containing some of the most vitriolic and hateful language I have ever encountered. I was told that, as someone of South American descent, I should be “grateful” that Europeans “civilized” our “savage culture.” Threads on Reddit and 4Chan, hubs for members of the neo-Nazi movement, shared my address and tips on having me deported or how to best mutilate me. My family, who lives in Florida, where I was born, was threatened. The calls and messages came from all over the world and they were incessant—I could not sleep for nearly a week after the column’s release. These nights found me chain smoking in my brightly-lit living room, waiting for my assailant.
I was followed on campus numerous times, was subject to verbal abuse when walking to or from campus, and had an even larger target placed on my back when white supremacists placed flyers with my image and information around San Marcos. I was told to give up my role as a contributor to The University Star, was subject to death threats and racist insults, and became the most recognizable face in Central Texas and Dr. Trauth did nothing. Though I had the support of numerous faculty members and campus activists, one must wonder what the President’s inaction in the face of white supremacy means.
In late-January, our campus was witness to a Texas senate panel concerning free speech on college campuses. Before the event began, I approached Dr. Trauth and asked her how it felt to have “placed a target on my back.” She put on a slight smile and rebutted with “how does it feel to have put a target on Texas State’s back?” I was stunned at her response. First, I am a human being and Texas State is an institution. An institution cannot be shot, stabbed, or hanged—a human being can. Second, her statement indirectly asserted that my column was nothing more than a loud complaint to bring negative attention to my institution. Dr. Trauth’s response was not only dehumanizing but it ignored the real and persistent racism felt by Texas State’s students of color. This was the first and last time we ever spoke.
At a town hall meeting in mid-April, amidst a sit-in led by campus activists as part of an effort to impeach Connor Clegg, Dr. Trauth stated publicly that she had done everything in her ability to keep me safe. Not only has she shown disrespect toward students of color at Texas State by way of her apathy, but she also had the audacity to lie in their faces.
A year later, I fear for the next student activist who gets thrown underneath the right-wing spotlight after standing up for the rights of oppressed communities—with the national and local environment as tumultuous and unpredictable as it currently stands, it is bound to happen. I fear for this student because they will be in a community undergirded by bigotry with a banally bureaucratic administration who expresses support for students of color, but instead stands idly by as Nazis target them. This time they came for me.