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

You are here

Oh, How The Times Haven’t Changed

AntoniaAC's picture

Eighty-five years ago, Enid Cook walked through the halls of Bryn Mawr creating a legacy with a chance at radical change. Fast forward to the present-- where exactly does Bryn Mawr stand with that notion of inclusion? Has it been affirmed or is it only an ailing hope? Through Anne Dalke’s analysis of the concept of  “slipping” and “Black at Bryn Mawr,” an initiative by BMC students to retrace black history, it has becomes apparent that the school has yet to lived up to its liberal goals. The school was founded more than 130 years ago, yet a meager “7%,” in the class profile of 2020 identify as “African-American,” while “38%” identify “White.” Recently, infact, racism reared its ugly head when two students thought a confederate flag and Mason-Dixon line meant Southern pride rather than a symbol of slavery and white supremacist violence. Did they slip?

Emily Elstad, Dalke’s student, suggests that a slip is, “a messy, slow—indeed, inevitable and unend- ing—process” (Dalke). The process is making an error of judgment, realizing the fault, apology, and changing. In a sense, it's a redemption for the pain caused by the person who “slipped.” It offers that person enlightenment brought about by a rebuttal, either internally or externally. Through these errors and revisions of character, “we gain a deeper understanding of each other and the world” (Dalke).  The women who put up the confederate flag may have initially been prompted to do it because the culture that they were raised in found it acceptable. They were ignorant of the destruction that the flag could cause on the other Bryn Mawr students, the faculty, and the staff. They slipped and made a lapse of judgment. They thought the flag would represent “heritage not hate”, but instead they got backlash and this is where they failed. They failed to correct their slip and, when asked, they dug their feet into the ground and made it intentional. The difference between the two errors is a reaction to the knowledge of the mistake. This idea of “slip vs intentional” is illustrated beautifully by Elstad when she writes, “Thinking metaphorically, sometimes only by slipping and falling to the floor do we notice that there is something down there that needs to be cleaned” (Dalke).Phobias and discriminations of all sorts need to be cleaned. That is why slipping is so important-- it gives people the chance to learn.

When the school was formed as a Quaker College for women in response to the Haverford all male college, the progressive white feminists took an ardent stand against gender inequality and fought oppression.  The white, elitist women were ignorant, but not innocent to the damage they caused minorities through exclusion. White supremacy is nothing minor; it tears through a country and leaves people hating and hurting and there is often no in between. M. Carey Thomas was the ringleader of a lynch mob that worked to exploit black help and define the school as “whites only.” This was a “slip” in a time when racism was not as rejected as it is now. In addition, Bryn Mawr community  slipped because the period had cultured them into believing that race affected ability, but “benevolent racism was still racism.”   It offers no excuse  and, to this day, rooms and areas that have “[marginalized] Black bodies,” still lay “at the heart of campus (Black at Bryn Mawr). The question is: how do we evolve from a past without erasing it? 

In today’s world, we know better. Yet we slip everyday back into institutionalized inequalities and write it off as accidental ignorance. Has the school truly offered atonement or merely covered up its faulty history with a pro diversity rally cry? It goes something like this, “minority majority,” say it a couple times and one might believe it. Being black at Bryn Mawr is an entirely different experience than being white and “politically correct” at Bryn Mawr. A vast majority of students are accepting, good-hearted people whom by no means seek to marginalize or exclude. However, because of its liberal ideals it has become a “close-minded” environment in which the norms of being “white, queer, upper middle class, atheist, [and] liberal,” are accepted, but “If one does not conform to these norms, they are looked down upon” (Black at Bryn Mawr). Bryn Mawr students slip, yes, infact all people slip, but it is what we learn from that slip that ultimately matters.

Checking one’s privilege has often been received with animosity and cries of reverse racism, but contrary to popular belief this does not mean all whites are persecutors or KKK leaders. It does, however, call on all people who have been entitled to more opportunity based on their race, gender, sexuality, religious affiliation, or economic background to respect and to acknowledge this position of power that they have been given. Unfortunately, however, until there is tangible change, the Bryn Mawr community willtakea “passive... neutral” stance on race.The Bryn Mawr community has come a long way from M Carey Thomas’s blatant racism, but, like the confederate flag incident, it is more apparent than ever that this fight is not yet over. 

There must be a sounding alarm for intersectionality that resonates among all races and genders at Bryn Mawr College. 550 students joining together to take a stand against hatred is one step in the right direction, but as President Kim Cassidy stated, “I don’t want to suggest that everything’s fine now. It’s a process, and we’re working on it.” Race is still a major part of identity and the president's acknowledgement of that is where learning comes from slips. When there is a realization of wrongdoing, there is only one way it can be corrected-- fighting back against future slips and intentional acts of racism and any other phobias that cause harm. That is when Bryn Mawr can become its ideals of, “a community diverse in nature and democratic in practice.” So maybe the times haven’t changed, but that does not mean they can’t.














Works Cited

Dalke, Anne and Jody Cohen. "Slipping." Steal This Classroom: Teaching and Learning        

Unbound. New York: Punctum Books, forthcoming 2017. 

Kioko, Emma and Grace Pusey. “Black at Bryn Mawr.”, 2015. Tour Builder. Web.

16 September 2016.