Where the winds of Dixie softly blow,
O’er the fields of Caroline,
There stands ever cherished NC State,
As thy honored shrine,
So lift your voices! Loudly sing,
From hill to oceanside,
Our hearts ever hold you, NC State,
In the folds of our love and pride.
Happy Red and White Week everyone! This is the week during which we pay homage to our rich history and growth as a university, where we take the time to unite as one in our traditions and pride, where we unequivocally express our unity as members of the Wolfpack.
Today I write to you not in one particular identity, but as an intersection of them all: a student leader and person of color at a predominately white institution.
While other institutions, some peer and sister, kicked off their school year with protests and distaste for campus statues and building names, I sat back comfortably knowing that NC State didn’t have to go through the public scrutiny.
Was I naive? Absolutely. I knew racial biases were on campus. I’ve seen them, I’ve heard them, and I’ve felt them. I knew a much more complex problem existed than just statues and building commemorations. I knew this comfort, however brief, was wrong.
Though we don’t have statues or buildings commemorating confederate and/or racist people (that we know of), we force students of color to sing the word Dixie in arguably the most sacred song that any Wolfpack member gets to sing, the Alma Mater.
Our Alma Mater pays homage to our university and our connections to Wolfpack members of past, present and future. However, this brief hymn, sung at athletic events, convocations and orientations, while also etched on plates, canvasses and glass in our student unions, bears more weight than one thinks.
Dixie [dik-see] noun: the southern states of the United States, especially those that were formerly part of the Confederacy.
Derives from Jeremiah Dixon, a surveyor of the Mason–Dixon line, which defined the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania, and, for the most part, free and slave states subsequent to the Missouri Compromise.
Your interpretation of the word dixie might be different than mine. To you, it might not mean anything. To you, it might be a harmless devotion to our nation’s history. To you, I might be overreacting. Is a word harmless when it shoulders a weight on the backs of our students of color? It is much more than a devotion to our nation’s heritage. It’s etched and effortlessly sung in every area of our university experience.
I know college is a breeding ground for difficult conversations and intellectual growth. I know that some people might think removing this word from our Alma Mater is not what college is about. But am I hiding from this word, or are you hiding behind it?
At convocation, I challenged the incoming class to be uncomfortable, not by causing harm to oneself and/or others, but by expanding one's ability to grow. I now challenge you, the student body, to have uncomfortable conversations. Ask your peers how they feel about Dixie. Ask the faculty and staff about racial biases. Most importantly, listen.
This homecoming season, I want you to try to relish the Alma Mater, and the word you sing as you stand next to your friend who is Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Native American or Asian. I want you to be uncomfortable and think what this word would mean to you if you lived with the weight of racism on your back every day.
I want you to ask yourself, if this word is harmless, if it is history, if it doesn't mean any harm, why can't it be kept in the museums where we commemorate our history? Also ask yourself: Do I want this word? Do I want its history? Will you shoulder its weight? The answer you give determines the burden or the lack thereof that your peers and loved ones carry.
On Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. in 434 Daniels Hall, DASA’s Living and Learning Initiatives will be hosting a night of dialogue on this exact conversation: what are the racial implications of the word “Dixie” in our Alma Mater? As associate professor Blair Kelley moderates I invite you all to listen, question and share your thoughts about this key piece of our Wolfpack history.