Disclosures that Rachel Dolezal, a prominent Spokane civil rights activist and president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, may have engaged in a ruse to present herself as a black woman despite having white parents has incited differing and often opposite reactions from leaders of local universities, black student unions and her former students.
Satori Butler , the president of Eastern Washington University’s Black Student Union, doesn’t think Dolezal’s race should matter. Butler knows Dolezal personally and considers her a mentor. She doesn’t recall Dolezal ever labeling herself as black, nor did Butler ask.
“If she was yellow, green or purple, we would still respect her,” Butler said.
Dolezal is the adviser for EWU’s Black Student Union as well as a part-time instructor. Her classes focus primarily on African-American culture and art.
“I just think this is the media’s way of tearing down a leader that is helping the African-American community,” Butler said.
Halle Thomas, treasurer of Gonzaga’s Black Student Union, is concerned that by concealing her race Dolezal benefitted from aligning herself with a marginalized group – while still reaping the benefits of appearing to be a light-skinned African-American.
“She has been potentially walking around in blackface all of these years,” Thomas said.
Bailey Russell, president of the Gonzaga Black Student Union, and Thomas want Dolezal to explain.
“My overall opinion is that I think Ms. Dolezal needs to come out and make an official statement about this,” Russell said.
Thomas added, “I need her as a community member to come forward and just talk and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on.’ ”
In 2007, James Hand took an art class with Dolezal at North Idaho College, where she taught at the time. Hand said “she definitely portrayed herself as black.” That confused him and other students because she had such light skin, he said.
Tamara Wright Chavez, who took three of Dolezal’s classes at EWU, said she doesn’t think her teacher misrepresented herself. Wright Chavez, who is black, said she assumed at first that Dolezal was white, but her instructor’s knowledge of black culture and history made her think otherwise.
Regardless, “I feel like the good she’s done in our community hugely surpasses this issue,” Wright Chavez said.
EWU senior Jaclyn Archer also doesn’t think Dolezal’s race matters.
“Regardless of what her ethnicity is, she’s a very effective leader,” Archer said. “She’s very well educated in the issues of the black community and has been a champion for many people. I don’t see how her ethnicity makes any of that less true.”
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