Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Walkout

Hummingbird's picture

Forward

            Writing about anti-racist activism felt relevant and pressing at a time when my own college, along with many other colleges, is in the midst of discussions about increasingly visible diversity on campus. Mount Holyoke has recently dealt with a publicized instance of racism by their campus police against a student of color,[1] and in response students of color have launched a campaign called “#mohonest” [2]. Wesleyan is now in the midst of protests regarding the gradual loss of faculty from their African American Studies department[3]. Students at countless schools are launching “#I too Am…” campaigns, inspired by Harvard students, to highlight the membership of students of color in their college communities[4]. I wanted to write this piece to explore the ways institutional racism impacts people on traditionally white college campuses in different ways. I also wanted to look at the way anti-racist activism can become the center of one’s experience in a space, or can be a marginal or even completely absent part of one’s experience.

This particular piece is a collection of fictionalized narratives – the characters are all imagined, the names have no relation to people who exist in my life, and Mabell College does not exist. However, there are inevitably parts of stories from people in my life throughout this piece. Though the narratives are fictionalized, the experiences are not untrue to what people experience every day – right now – on college campuses across the United States. And just as the personal narratives may reflect any number of narratives of racial oppression, Mabell College may reflect any number of elite institutions of higher education. This could have taken on the form of an academic paper, exploring case studies of various colleges. I chose not to write in that form, because I wanted this to be more accessible and I wanted to avoid heavy academic language that might discourage people from exploring the topic. I also wanted to include more personal stories and perspectives without intruding on people’s privacy and anonymity – this is why the narratives are fictionalized.

It’s also necessary to note my positionality: I am a white, upper-middle class woman. I write in the first person in each of these testimonies, but I do not presume to know what it feels like to be marginalized or oppressed because of the color of my skin. I don’t share that experience. I try to incorporate words from living people for characters who identify with marginalized or oppressed identities that I do not share. I take my inspiration for the voices I write from articles, testimonials, and personal conversations. I sometimes quote directly, weaving real peoples’ words and voices into my narratives – this is not intended to appropriate, but to reflect how frequently racism is felt, particularly in predominantly white institutions. The woven in words are always italicized and cited, and I invite you to read the context from which the words are drawn because they come from instances that span several years and several colleges. I cannot presume I have incorporated these words successfully – perhaps you will reject that I could ever hope to represent experiences I don’t have, and that is entirely legitimate. I hope by weaving in others’ words I can highlight the cyclical nature of racial oppression and the continued steps taken to change it.

This piece begins with a reading guide and college brochure introducing you to Mabell College, the prestigious setting of these narratives. I open with this to emphasize the disconnect between promotional material and lived experience. This piece ends with a bibliography that will point you to academic and non-academic readings and resources on the topic of racism and anti-racist activism at traditionally white colleges. I invite you to engage with this work – talk back to me, agree with me, disagree with me, critique my work, and continue conversing past this. I would like for this to be a dialogue, and beyond dialogue I aim for action.

Hummingbird

Bryn Mawr College, May 2014


[1] Wegerif, M. (2014, March 3). Mount Holyoke, A College For White Men? Retrieved May 14, 2014, from http://doublexchromosome.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/mount-holyoke-a-college-for-white-men/

[2] Who are we and why are we here? (2014, March). Retrieved May 15, 2014, from http://mohonest.tumblr.com/aboutus

[3] Herman, L. (2014, May 13). Wesleyan students fight to re-establish focus on African American Studies. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from http://college.usatoday.com/2014/05/13/wesleyan-students-fight-to-re-establish-of-african-american-studies-on-campus/

[4] I, Too, Am Harvard. (2014, March 1). Retrieved May 14, 2014, from http://itooamharvard.tumblr.com/


Comments

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
1 + 9 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.