City council subcommittee and SAAC talk racism and discrimination in Ellensburg

Abigail Duchow, Scene Editor

CWU students on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) described their experiences with racism and discrimination in Ellensburg to a subcommittee of the city council in a Zoom listening session that took place in October. 

The subcommittee of city council, including Mayor Bruce Tabb and members Nancy Goodloe and Nancy Lilquist, has done 17 listening sessions, listening to the stories of over 100 people, in a “listening tour” to better understand the diversity of Ellensburg. 

A report written by the subcommittee to recommend ways to create a safer and welcoming community in Ellensburg will be released in the council packet on Dec. 3 and discussed in the Dec. 7 city council meeting.

Mayor Bruce Tabb said the subcommittee has listened to stories from people of color, LGBTQ community members, people with disabilities and more in an effort to do better for these communities in Ellensburg, as well as create equity, support and celebration.

Tabb said the conversation between the subcommittee and SAAC was “frightening and humbling.” He said the subcommittee and city council are figuring out how to address these problems in Ellensburg and create space for leaders to step in and make a change. 

“Ultimately, this has got to be a safe community for everyone,” Tabb said.

Tabb said there have been groups spreading misinformation and rumors about initiatives done by city council, such as a false rumor that city council has forced businesses to hire people of color or pay a fee as a consequence.

He recommended running for city council as a way to advocate for change in Ellensburg.

The SAAC is a way for student athletes to have a voice in the NCAA. 

According to the NCAA website, “each committee is made up of student-athletes assembled to provide insight on the student-athlete experience and offer input on the rules, regulations and policies that affect student-athletes’ lives on campus.”

The SAAC members were asked if they feel welcome in Ellensburg, about any situations or conditions that impact their safety in Ellensburg, how the city can accommodate the growing and diverse population and how the city can provide resources, among others. 

The questions were asked with the intention of opening up a conversation about inclusivity and equity in Ellensburg.

Lapic, who identifies as Japanese American, said he had experienced side-glances and comments in public that made him uncomfortable, and he had to start disregarding them in response. 

In addition to feeling unwelcome in Ellensburg in general, he said another reason he felt unwelcome was because he is a part of the LGBTQ community.

Lapic said there is a disconnect with student athletes and Ellensburg locals because there are no places for locals and students to meet and connect. He said the closest thing there currently is to this is Fred Meyer. 

“People see the university and city separately,” Lapic said.

During the listening session, Lapic shared a video that protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement captured of a man shouting racial slurs at the protesters, intimidating them and calling them “Muslim women” for wearing masks. 

“It hurts me to know people are engaging in this sort of hateful manner,” Lapic said. “This was caught on video, but there’s so much that’s not. … That’s why a lot of people feel unwelcome.”

Lapic said the police budget in Ellensburg has been rising while other programs are being cut, which he said shows there is something wrong.

“Choosing what we fund is power,” Lapic said. 

In the city’s 2019-20 biennial budget, the Ellensburg Police Department’s budget is $11,727,730, which is an increase of $248,483 since the 2017-18 biennial budget. CWU’s University Police and Public Safety budget has also been steadily increasing with each fiscal year.

While the amount the city has spent on the police department increased, the police department budget for 2019-20 is 7.17% of the city’s total budget. This is less than it was in 2017-18, when the police budget was 8.16% of the total budget.

Lapic said he had observed that people either don’t want to listen about the problems in Ellensburg or they don’t think it’s their problem.

Lapic said his family doesn’t like to come visit him in Ellensburg after the experiences he has had here. He said he doesn’t feel welcome in general and will not be returning to Ellensburg after finishing his master’s degree. 

As for how the city can help with these issues, Lapic said the best way is by showing the city council cares about these problems and shows they are making an effort to put a stop to racism and prejudice in Ellensburg.

“After this Zoom meeting ends, we really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Lapic said.

Assistant Football Coach AJ Cooper said he feels most comfortable on campus, but not so comfortable off campus. 

Cooper, who identifies as a Black man, said one of the reasons he feels less comfortable off campus is the lack of Black police officers and minority owned businesses. 

Cooper said along with the older population not understanding the younger population, there is a lack of ability to experience and appreciate other cultures in Ellensburg. 

He said being able to experience other cultures in Ellensburg would encompass experiencing different music, lifestyles and foods, such as soul food.

According to Cooper, these are some of the reasons CWU alumni leave Ellensburg after graduating and don’t come back.

In regard to safety off campus, Cooper said he had experienced situations that made him feel uncomfortable in grocery stores and other places around town.

He said he’d noticed people who aren’t from Ellensburg and people of color being made to feel uncomfortable by other Ellensburg citizens.

Cooper also said he had problems with people who support President Trump who had been protesting in town. 

He said athletic recruitment might be negatively impacted if potential recruits see things like the video Lapic showed of the man intimidating BLM protesters. 

“You don’t have to go very far to get this experience. … You have to figure out who your allies are in Ellensburg,” Cooper said. 

Cooper said people should be okay with living in the same place and disagreeing about different topics and issues.

“We don’t hate anybody, we just want to be included,” Cooper said.

Xavier Smith, a guard on the CWU men’s basketball team, said he only feels comfortable with the basketball team and feels uncomfortable off campus.

Smith, who identifies as an African American man, said he had been pulled over three or four times in Ellensburg. He said if something were to happen, he wasn’t sure calling the police would be in his best interest.

“The lack of having a safety net for people in Ellensburg is something that makes me feel unsafe,” Smith said.

Smith said some ways the city could accommodate the growing population and diversity is by doing research about and including all cultures as part of the city.

He said part of the university and city’s jobs is to provide places where people from all cultures are comfortable in town. He said there isn’t even a place in town to get a haircut with the texture of hair he has.

Rey Green is a running back for CWU’s football team, SAAC member and The Observer sports editor. During the listening session, Green described an experience he had with a police officer.

Green said he was a passenger in a car that got pulled over in Ellensburg. He said all four passengers, including him, were Black men. 

He said the driver was very nervous and was visibly shaking. He said he put his hands up on the back of the back of the driver’s seat so they were visible to the police officer, and everyone else in the car put their hands somewhere visible as well. 

Green said the first thing the police officer asked was if there were any weapons in the vehicle, and said he noticed the officer kept his hand on the gun on his belt.

He said he is cautious about the cops in Ellensburg.

Green said whenever the opportunity is presented to him, he always goes back to his hometown to feel comfortable. 

He said while CWU claims to be the most diverse school in Washington, he never sees Black teachers on campus or Black students in the library. He said he doesn’t actually “feel the diversity” of people of color or LGBTQ community on campus.

Cross country and track and field athlete and SAAC member Ethan Lapic said there is no time when he is off campus that he feels welcome. Lapic referred to being off campus as a “neutral at best or negative experience.” 

Taylor Stephens, a guard on CWU’s women’s basketball team, said she was at a protest with her team when a woman supporting President Trump got in an argument with one of her teammates and “got in her [teammate’s] face.”

Stephens said a problem in Ellensburg is that locals only see people of color as temporary because many of them are students.

Lauren Odette, a lock on CWU’s women’s rugby team and SAAC member, said student athletes are trying to be more involved in the off-campus community by participating in off-campus events.

She said the rugby team is diverse and that there are Pacific Islander people on the team that have nowhere to go to get comfort food. She said more diverse food options off campus could encourage people to go off campus more.

Odette said it’s important to let people know athletes aren’t just “crazy college students.” She said many athletes maintain a good grade point average and are here to play the sport they love and get an education.