Letter to the Editor: A Navy veteran’s response to Alex Summers

By Zach Martin, Graduate Student

Mr. Summers, I come to you today during Teacher Appreciation Week in order to hopefully educate you on some facts you may be a bit unclear on.

First, when you ask “what about the huge spike of violence in Carbondale and the seeming unresponsiveness of SIU,” what do you expect the university to do, exactly? The alleged perpetrators of March and April’s violent crimes were visitors to the city, not SIU students and the crimes committed did not take place on campus property.

SIU is not the government, though it is part of it; your apparent concerns for the safety of the public in Carbondale should be lodged with the Carbondale Police Department, if anyone at all.


MORE: Alex Summers original letter

Moving on, I feel like you don’t understand the concept of diversity.

Note, this term is not in quotation marks, as it is a real word with a real meaning. Diversity of opinion, socioeconomic status, ethnic heritage, language, sexual orientation, political idealism and hell, even sports loyalties is one of the most important ways a human being becomes a citizen of the world.

SIU, as an institute of higher education, is responsible for not only educating its students, but empowering them with the knowledge and experiences they need to become better citizens of this (and, in the case of our international students, their own) countries. I understand your confusion, in that at first glance, affirmative action hiring practices may seem exclusionary to white males (who, I assume, are also straight).

That confusion results from the fact that it is, in fact, exclusionary. That’s the entire point.

White straight males have almost never been subjected to institutional racism, sexism and abuse from the general public or government over the entirety of human history. In fact, we invented all of those societal ills. I am a white, straight, middle-class white male, and the idea that some people might automatically assume I am racist, sexist and homophobic because of that makes me sick; generalized assumptions based on appearance or behavior, I’m sure you agree, are of no benefit to any culture.

To quote my brother, a very wise man: “When you are used to preferential treatment, equality feels like oppression.”

Perhaps you should take advantage of SIU’s commitment to diversity to learn something about white and male privilege (which you seem to have seen, but ignored) in order to be truly thankful for the total accidents of birth which led you to be born a cisgender white male.

Diversity is not about being exclusionary, in fact it is the total opposite.

Without whites, without white males, true diversity can never actually be achieved. Can a straight, white male teach to the pain felt by subjugated African-American women in the 1950s? Can a straight, white male express to scared, insecure LGBTQ students what it’s like to come out? Can an able-bodied straight, white male counsel disabled veterans on how best to live their lives to the fullest?

Of course not.

On that note, my final point (and one I sincerely hope hits home) is this. Your letter included the information that you are a freshman from Murphysboro studying criminal justice, and you yourself mentioned that you were an “Army veteran” who “swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.” I am a U.S. Navy veteran, who served aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) for almost five years, and I was a journalist and photographer who completed two tours of duty to the Fifth Fleet area of operations in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. I reached the rank of E-5 and was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, the Navy and Marine Corps Overseas Service Ribbon and the Sea Service Ribbon as a result of my involvement with Operation Enduring Freedom from 2008-2011. I, too, took that oath of service.

As a journalist, I did a check of Facebook, and as a student who (I assume) is no more than 19 years of age and graduated from high school last year, I would like to know exactly what makes you an “Army veteran.” I served this country at home and abroad and I find your belief that this university discriminates against white males disgusting. That line of thinking is dangerous, short-sighted, bigoted and racist, and has no place at an institution of higher learning designed to help students become exactly the opposite of you.

Mr. Summers, in closing, I sincerely hope you take advantage of the opportunities you receive at SIU to open your mind to parts of the world you may never get to see and to people you may never otherwise get the chance to meet. My college experience here, as well as my military service, allowed me to become a better man, a better husband and hopefully a better father for my son.

I agree, there is no university that may supersede the U.S. Constitution! However, take a longer look at what that document actually means before you wrap yourself in it as an excuse to be something I truly hope you are not.

Zach Martin is graduate student in professional media and media management from Savannah, Ga.