This Thursday I decided not to attend class. Instead I attended the discussion in TGH. Thomas Great Hall. A building and a room who’s very name has immortalized the racist foundations that Bryn Mawr was built upon. And again, I am reminded of Antigone’s brother, and Creon’s reign built upon the rotting flesh of stubborn pride. Racism, bigotry, classism, ableism, it all lives in the decaying walls of Bryn Mawr, and I wonder at our capacity to heal in an institution built on the very sentiments we hold so evil but carry out every day.
Again, the image of burnt flesh,
the rotten poison spread over Thebes
from that vile pillar of reign springs to mind.
If poison be the medicine we use to remedy,
how can we expect ever to rise from our sick bed?
Our bedsores fester and groan,
with our only relief a moment
of placebo induced safety
until the poison we believe so fervently can heal,
continues to slurp away at our body
our only fortress once all is said and done.
And so this is my fear; That these discussions, while so vitally important because they are a space to tear open wounds never properly healed, to bear forth the festering infections that have led us here, so that we can begin to tend to our hurts and begin to heal, maybe for the first time with true remedies, I fear that they are yet another placebo. A breaking of a silence that will end only with placation. And yet I also feel as though we are on a precipice, a ledge that we have found ourselves at many times before, peering over into an unknown that we only know must be better than the cracked and broken landscape behind us. And each time we find ourselves here, we turn back. Back to the barren bramble we should have left behind, in a futile effort to make life bloom. And each time we have produced a flower or two, sealed some of the fissures and covered over the fractures. But inevitably, the façade only lasts so long, and we find ourselves back at that edge, and this time, I hope beyond hope, that we are ready to jump.
But. Enough. Enough of my analysis, my hopes, my poetry that attempts to paint with written words the emotions I cannot, and perhaps should not, express with my voice. This is not my space to take. I wrote down most of what was said at the meeting, and I will transcribe it as best as I can here. Please know that I could not capture every word, only the sentiments that I heard, and I will try my best to accurately depict those sentiments. I will not use names unless it is pertinent to the actions taken. I cannot even begin to attempt to insert the emotion that was in that room into this transcription. Nor can I pretend be able to fully empathize with most of it. I only wish to extend the space that was held on Thursday so that we all continue in conversation. So that the silence does not settle in again. So that we do again, not stop short of that precipice.
Student: Consider that you represent us all, you must take accountability in speaking.
Student: A line was crossed in appropriating the story of sexual assault from the college news.
Dean Evan stood and apologized and explained her actions.
Staff member: This conversation needed to happen, it is the best that has happened and we have found a high within this low. But all the work we did last year was for nothing because of the way that silent protesters conducted themselves.
Student: We can’t solve this issue in a vacuum. The emotional and mental trauma is not new and it is not born out of nowhere. There are many things that go on within the community of black students and students of color and not everybody agrees. The solution is not to build a sisterhood….sometimes that is the problem in and of itself. But time and again this system has not been built for us so time and again students of color battle what white students don’t battle. The intention was not to hurt but to heal – not to hurt back, but to move forward. Decorum is almost no longer an option because what else can be done? What can be done within the confined of the structure if the structure does not allow students of color to engage with it. And what about mental health? There is no support there.
Keynote Speaker: If we only listen to what hurts our ears, we miss the message, just because the message was delivered in a way that hurt your ears doesn’t mean it didn’t have merit and that you don’t have to listen.
Student: Take a look at what we have actually done. I challenge you to think about what has changed and what has been done. Not enough, I am still hurting, my little sisters are still hurting. I apologize for the hurt that I caused but I cannot apologize for speaking out.
Alum: I am a white woman form the suburbs and I just want to impress upon you not to through the baby out with the bathwater. These demands are good and they need to be met.
Student: Why do we have so much conversation and not enough action. I am uncomfortable coming to a campus and standing in a building that is named for a person who doesn’t want me here. This list of demands is trying to break down what needs to happen in the school. I know that some are uncomfortable with how the list of demands was given out but I am uncomfortable in class. And I am comfortable being uncomfortable together so that I can grow you and we can grow together.
Faculty member: Civil rights has never been polite. It has been rowdy and rude and it made change. And then we said thank you very much for this, now please never do it again. Civility is a vastly overrated form of political protest and activism and it is so often used as a tool to silence.
Student: A lot of my experience has been under constant pressure. To do things well and perfectly, keep up all the little things and how is it fair that I have to be a student and create change. I think all the time about if I am offending people by my presence. I am too dark, too tall, sometimes you need to think about how to exist in this society and its too much. But why is it too much, why can’t we all just be humans and treat each other like humans. I have passion but no support.
Student: When we’re frustrated or unheard, it’s in the form of protest, when other students get upset it’s in the form of an attack. But it’s perceived as the reverse. People came to hear how others experience hurt on this campus. When something happens to one or two people on this campus you feel it as though it happens to you. We are not reacting to one thing, we are reacting to the harms done to hundreds of us.
Student: How can we say that we value students when I work three jobs and 40 hour weeks. Bryn Mawr has taken my scholarship away from me and given it back to me in loans. When I work and work just to survive, when I don’t have money to travel back home, when I don’t have a home to go back to. You have no idea the borders my mother had to cross to get here, she didn’t fight this battle for me to fail, and yet Bryn Mawr has set me up for failure at every step. You think that these demands are unreasonable, that these demands are too demanding? Well what you demand of me to demanding. Bryn Mawr doesn’t value scholars, only their money is valued.
Student: We are actively fighting against Bryn Mawr’s institutionalized idea of silence. We have silence surrounding mental health, silence from the honor code, we need to keep listening and talking making effort
Student: I think this conversation is great in that it is breaking a silence and I just want to urge us to keep moving forward by continuing to break the silence. It is hard to see where something isn’t being said so keep talking.
Student: We’ve been here before, in this room in this conversation. I’ve seen many faces here before but I want to thank those people who haven’t been here before. I have mixed feelings, but to the students; take some time. We need it, but please stop with Yik Yak – I prefer you tell me you’re racist to my face. To go to class and not know if it’s the person sitting next to me, and maybe it’s my first year, my resident, my friend, just tell me to my face. And be in the room. Let your voice be heard. Sometimes the pressures of being on campus is too much to go to class today, and professors, please understand this. Be in the room. Because at least I know that we have a base level of understanding that we want to engage in this conversation. We are in need of a cultural shift. And there are people coming after us, after we leave. There are people that are going to be here after us. And there are two things that I don’t want to see. I don’t want to come back years later and see my work gone to waste and I don’t want to get emails from students years down the road asking us for advice on how to face the same problems that we are working to solve now, to have the same conversations again, saying ‘what do we do?’ So be in the room.
Student: We have worked so hard on this – we have not slept, I have not slept more than tow hours a night in weeks. So please do not discount the work that went into this – we did not do this carelessly, we have worked so hard. Yes we have caused pain but I don’t feel welcome here. There are all different experiences here that are never heard. I don’t even remember the last time that I went to class because we are just trying to be heard and find space. Yes we hurt someone in the process of being heard, but how do we get heard? The same list of demands has been put forth since ’88, I’m tired of talking, we need action.
Student: We need to talk about mental health here, we need to stop silencing it.
Staff member: Are you all actually taking advantage of the resources on campus? I watch these deans, they break their backs for their students – do students actually access the deans? We need a continuous conversation and we need change but I don’t think you have taken advantage of the resources you have available to you.
Student: there are a lot of things I hate about BMC and a lot of things I love. I am afraid to take advantage of the resources here. We don’t use the resources because we are scared to use them. We need mental health, especially for students of color, and if BMC cant provide that then we cant be held to the same standards.
E-Board member: This member apologized for the way the last SGA meeting was run and expressed a sincere wish to ‘ make SGA a more progressive space and not a bureaucratic white space that white students use to get what they want. And I think one of the ways we can do this is through dialogue.’
Student: We have all been taught from birth to be an oppressor.
Faculty member: I have been feeling so very heavy this week. So, so, heavy. And Bryn Mawr has made me feel this way but it is because I love my job and I am thankful for all the discomfort and I believe that I value authenticity which is awkward and hurtful and we don’t know how to do it until we mess it up. Bryn Mawr breaks my heart because I love it and we can do better.
By this time we had run a half an hour over and I then stepped out to go to another class. But there was more that was said in another last half hour after I had left where more people spoke their truths. I spoke to a faculty member who had stayed for the entirety of it and asked her what was said during the rest of the conversation. She said that mostly people spoke to the desperate need that we have for more recognition of the mental health issues that are rampant on BMC’s campus and the overhauling necessary to improve the mental health facilities.
I want to speak to the emotion in that as in that room, and I want to acknowledge that there is no way I could possibly do justice to it. But I want to attempt to impart some sense of the emotional turmoil that hung so heavily in the air in TGH for those few hours.
There was so much heat in that room. The heat of emotional wreckage and broken spirits and shattered trust. But there was also hope. Hope and mirth and respect and so many voices speaking so many truths that were all allowed to be held in that space. And while that room was burning and sighing and creaking under the weight of what was held there, while blue-grey flames licked at our ankles and singed our hair, while those who spoke burned brighter than the rest of us, and hurled flaming prose into the air, unhinging the charred rafters that crashed to the ground around us, while ash drifted about us in flakes of sorrow, while big plops of salty tears slipped from tired eyes and sizzled in the heat of the room, while we burned and watch our peers and colleagues and friends and community burn, we stayed. And we sat. And we listened. I hope.