BSU president: 'I try to broadcast the black perspective'

by Tracy Kalytiak  |   

Earlier this month, a student organization at the University of Oklahoma tweeted a video of OU Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter members on a bus, enthusiastically chanting a racist ditty to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It."

Andrew Freed II, president of UAA's Black Student Union, recently won a 2015 Spring Student Diversity Award from the UAA Diversity Action Council. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

Andrew Freed II, president of UAA's Black Student Union, recently won a 2015 Spring Student Diversity Award from the UAA Diversity Action Council. (Photo by Philip Hall/University of Alaska Anchorage)

There will never be a n***** in SAE. There will never be a n***** in SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a n***** in SAE.

That nine seconds of ugliness and hate prompted fury, especially on social media, and prompted OU's president to immediately expel two students who appeared in the video and kick the SAE chapter off campus.

"It was sad, because these people were attending an institution of higher learning," said Andrew Freed II, president of UAA's Black Student Union and a 2015 Spring Student Diversity Award winner.

Freed posted the OU president's letter on his Facebook page and said his swift reaction felt reassuring.

"It's good to see this activism isn't just among groups like the NAACP or the Black Student Union," he said. "Other people are taking this seriously as well. They're standing up, saying, 'I don't support that, this is offensive to me and here's going to be the repercussion.' As far as the year's race relation issues, I think that was probably, as far as timeliness, the best response. I was pleased to see [the OU president] saying, 'That's not right, we're shutting it down.'"

Encouraging cultural exchanges

Freed has belonged to BSU since he first enrolled at UAA in 2010. He became the BSU president at the beginning of the school year, at Campus Kick-Off, and has since launched an effort to open discussions and cultural pathways.

In December, Freed directed efforts to win funding to bring a film, "Dear White People," to campus as part of its Black History Month celebration. He brought to campus the "Black in Latin America" film series, created an "After Ferguson" discussion panel and, as a Black History Month special, hosted a KRUA radio series, "A Black Minute."

Black students, Freed said, make up 4 percent of the 16,577 undergraduate students at UAA's Anchorage campus.

"My goal is to have meaningful events regarding black issues and our perspectives," Freed said. "If these meaningful events were not held, it would be a lost opportunity for the campus to experience diversity. If the minority voice is not represented, then it will be forgotten. We encourage diversity through our meaningful events that address cultural crossings and social injustice.

"Through all the events we've done, I try to broadcast the black perspective," he said. "I definitely think the events that occurred this year (police officers' fatal shootings of black people in Ferguson, Cleveland and New York and reaction to those deaths) helped steer the types of events we've done."

'I see my degree at work'

Freed was born in Niceville, Fla. His parents met while serving in the U.S. Air Force; his mother hailed from Gary, Ind., and his father came from Cleveland. The family moved to Panama, North Dakota and the Biloxi-Ocean Springs area of Mississippi before, 11 years ago, driving onto a ferry bound for Haines.

"My mom, she really fell in love with the Alaska idea," he said. "We came up and have been up here ever since."

Freed had just started eighth grade and enrolled at Central Middle School. "It was a lot different from the South," he said, where he spent much of his time outdoors in warm weather, at the beach.

He slowly came to appreciate life in Alaska. "I just throw the jackets on," he said. "I learned you don't walk around without gloves on."

Freed played basketball and, as a freshman, started running track-"My mom thought it would be a good way to stay in shape," he said. Freed and others on the team ran through the school's hallways during the colder months, until snow and ice melted away enough to use the track outside. He tried participating in the long jump, but experienced difficulties.

"When you jump, there's a runway process, there's a line you can take off from," he said. "In long jump, I'd always foul, take off in front of the line, so that was the problem I had my first year. So I said, I'm done with long jump. Someone said, "Why don't you just try triple jump?" I tried it and it just stuck. The only reason I liked it was because it was the only jump I could actually complete without fouling."

In his second year, Freed bettered his personal record in triple jump by 5 feet. "I got 5 feet better in triple jump," he said. "At that point, I started thinking, maybe there's something to this triple jump thing." He started lifting weights and by the end of the year made it to the state competition. "At state, I PR'd and jumped 40 feet-I improved by 10 feet. Junior year didn't go so well; I dipped back to 38 feet. Senior year, I PR'd again and jumped 41 feet."

Freed walked onto the UAA track team in his freshman year, setting a UAA record in the triple jump in 2010 with a leap of 44 feet, 8.75 inches, and, in 2013, registering a career-best time of 11.92 in the 100 meters.

Now, he's just a few classes away from earning his bachelor's degree in Health, Physical Education & Recreation and is in his second year of working with youths at Service High School-last year he volunteered for his alma mater and this year, he hopes to become an assistant coach there.

"I'm always presenting in front of a bunch of kids, so I see my degree at work through me using it through coaching," he said. "I enjoy it."

Deviating from the plan

Enhancing diversity, however, sparks passion in Freed's voice.

He says he's pleased with the way UAA seeks to enrich diversity, but would like to see more connections growing between people in the community outside the campus.

"I think it's like a 'keep-to-myselfness-I don't know how to term that except it's like, 'I'm just going to be about my business and take care of my own,''" he said, describing an attitude he's observed in the Anchorage area. "When you have that perspective, you're not really looking to invite and bring other cultures. There's a lot of traditionalism here: 'This is how we're used to doing things, we don't deviate from the plan, we stick with what we're used to.' But there's so much culture that flows in through these high schools. I'm glad UAA is taking the initiative to welcome diversity because these high schools are some of your feeders."

'I just want to make people aware'

Freed has experienced the sting of racism and bigotry many times in his life.

"I was in the South for about five years," he said. "I've been called the 'N' word at a predominantly white school, so it hasn't been my first rodeo."

Racism, now, usually hides-rippling under the surface of social interactions, hiding in subtly coded language politicians use to tap into the bias and fear of their constituents without saying anything explicit about race-employing expressions like "states' rights," "welfare/food stamps," "illegal alien," "inner city," or "sharia law."

"It's not as much in your face," Freed said. "One time I went to Carrs and I was wearing a hoody. I was going grocery shopping to get something for Mom. This group of white guys with their camo, they all look at me like, 'What are you doing here?' They didn't talk to me. It's a certain look, kind of like, 'Oh, you don't belong,' but they don't come out and say it because we're past that point. You see how we've moved past that point? Now we're at the subtleties."

After the police shot and killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Cleveland police shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy carrying a fake gun, Freed and one of his friends-who is white-engaged in a 52-comment back and forth on Facebook about race.

Freed went on to post about something else. Then, the friend wrote, saying he wanted Freed to know he didn't hate him.

"I never said I hated anybody," Freed said. "I told him just because we were at discourse doesn't mean I hate you, I just want to make people aware of these situations going on in our country and our community."

Having one-on-one conversations about painful incidents like the ones in Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, force the country to grow up, Freed said.

"That 52-comment thread? That wasn't comfortable, but it's something that needs to happen in order for us to move forward toward that idea of a post-racial society," he said. "Just because I'm saying this is a form of prejudice, that doesn't mean I look at you any different because you're white. My black love doesn't mean I have hatred toward anybody else, it's just my black love. It's just that I'm going to stand up for my cause right now-this is something relevant and pertinent to me right now."

Written by Tracy Kalytiak, UAA Office of University Advancement 

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