The following article is a guest opinion piece. Opinion pieces are submitted by those in the Westminster community that are factually accurate but also share the opinion of the author. The opinions expressed here are not associated with The Forum newsroom.
There has recently been a set of screenshots circulating around of a white supremacist group chat called “Superior Chat.” The feeling of disappointment, paranoia, and dissociation when these things happen is a familiar one to me.
However, those feelings become much more visceral and painful when these events become closer and closer in proximity.
Blake Katona walked around the Westminster campus; lived here, worked here, and is graduating from here. Blake Katona has a degree from our institution that will allow him to enter into a career field or go forward in higher education.
That is incredibly concerning to me considering the complete lack of evidence that the behavior exhibited in those messages has been eliminated and learned from. It is not enough to let things pass as was done at Murrieta Valley High School when the problem first arose.
Although Blake Katona released an apology statement, in this instance, still, it is not enough. The apology statement was – to quote Katona himself – “empty” and laden with unaddressed ignorance and selfish concern.
The response to this incident from Katona is the perfect example of why apologies aren’t enough. In Katona’s apology letter, he digressed that his “words are what started all of this and yet it is words that [he is] now struggling to form.”
But this was more than just hateful words. This was the inciting of violence and promoted what we have all come to clearly see in the past weeks as genocide purely for the sake of defending something as arbitrary as race.
This “Superior Chat,” which included avid input from Katona, placed fear, pain, frustration, and rage unnecessarily in the minds of peers that should have had the peace to focus on school. Understand, Blake Katona, the daily trauma you have contributed to.
Katona also claims to be “…[searching] within himself for the source… to think of why or what may have prompted [this]…” There isn’t much further to look than within the messages themselves.
If whiteness equates to being “right” and “supreme” and idolizing “father Hitler,” then it is very obvious that white supremacy is the guide. I have no doubt that Blake Katona knows exactly the ideas that influenced his behavior.
Of course there is guilt in being caught for something so “vile,” but centering your own sorrow waters down this apology and only relieves the discomfort in yourself.
Acknowledgment is not enough. Apologies are not enough. Taking “accountability” is not enough.
It is time that the accountability actually be accounted for. The intent of Katona’s words that “nothing can do justice to what was said” implies that there is nothing that should excuse or tolerate the language that was used in the chat.
However, I have to disagree that there is no justice that can be done.
There is a very powerful and effective option that will bring both justice to the hurt communities and learning to Katona and others with similar tendencies: revocation of Blake Katona’s academic degree.
The safest and most honorable option that can be taken by our institution is to revoke Blake Katona’s degree and require work and learning on anti-discrimination for the student in question and all the students on Westminster’s campus.
Ultimately my goal in demanding the revocation of Blake Katona’s degree is a demand of fairness, but I also do not wish to drive Blake Katona into resentment. I am hopeful for the bright future of all people and believe that this can only be achieved with anti-racist learning for white students.
Already we have a program through SDIC on campus, Engaging with Whiteness, putting the effort towards this kind of work. This program should be the first stop for Blake Katona and similar students.
While it provides necessary social learning, it also limits re-victimization of the groups targeted in the group chat. Most importantly, revoking Katona’s degree will uphold our institutional goal for “global responsibility” and honor minority students and alums who faced barriers of systemic racism and trauma to even be in this place.
Requiring intense learning on systemic oppression and, most importantly, how to actively disengage from and dismantle it will create the space for Katona to not only make right with the communities hurt here, but also give us confidence that others will not experience the same pain.
Only responding to these heinous incitations of violence with words allows this cycle of oppression to continue. Inaction is still action.
Although this exchange did not happen during Katona’s time at Westminster College, it will be a symbol of solidarity with white supremacy and the negligent school officials at Murrieta Valley High School by allowing this student to go forth with a degree emblazoned with our name.
It will also simply be a slap in the face to the discrimination black and brown lives face daily. Already the odds are stacked against us, so why make space for someone who had the predisposition for success and squandered it?
Students and professionals who work hard and don’t have a secretly racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, ableist, homophobic, misogynistic past are eager for the same opportunities. There are already thousands of professionals out there today that took actions like Katona’s and were allowed to move forward and upward.
These are the people that are currently in positions to decide if a person’s life is worth saving from COVID-19 and have been discriminating against BIPOC in those decisions. This is proof that white privilege will protect the career of Blake Katona, so revoking Katona’s degree is the most merciful option.
If the impact of this demand ruins Katona’s career, think of the thousands of lives slaughtered and brutalized because of the same white supremacy the “Superior Chat” participated in.
Think of Breonna Taylor.
Think of George Floyd.
Think of Tony McDade.
Think of Shukri Abdi.
Think of Kendrick Johnson.
Think of Bernardo Palacios.
Think of baby Katera Barker.
No more trauma can be allowed to spread from this situation. Something has to be done.
Blake Katona has to understand that what he did is not okay and we will not accept his apology until we see real proof of change. We need to see the effect he has had on our communities to heal our trauma, not just the effort, in order to even begin thinking about forgiveness.
We will not subject the rest of the world to this kind of ignorance. Something real, active, direct, and impactful must be done. The lives of marginalized people need to tangibly improve to rectify the actions of the “Superior Chat” and the institutions that allowed these actions to come and pass unchecked.
Black, brown, disabled, Jewish, LGBTQ+, and Muslim lives need to matter in more than just words.