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Paper #3

Kismet's picture

Old habits die hard.  This is the simple foundation upon which the idea of “slipping” is built.  In moments of weakness, we revert to our old ways, often unintentionally.  We often speak before we think and the result occasionally offends others.  Such “slips” of the tongue can be shocking to others and embarrassing to ourselves.  Regardless of this, slipping is necessary for us to grow as individuals and a society.

Generally, slipping involves saying or doing something that reveals one’s prejudices without directly articulating them.  These prejudices, which are often racial, have grown out of the invisible system of racism that has been around for centuries.  Bryn Mawr College itself has been an institution for over a century.  The College’s history is often highlighted on tours around the campus, especially because it was one of the earliest colleges for women.  However, the College rarely acknowledges its history of racism, which is an enormous slip.

Grace Pusey and Emma Kioko were a two of the many students frustrated by the college’s slippage.  The pair decided to develop a tour that explains the historical racism that occurred at Bryn Mawr College, hoping to remediate some of the pain the community was feeling due to this slip.  Under the guidance of Dr. Monica Mercado and Dr. Sharon Ullman, the two completed their history project and named the tour “Black at Bryn Mawr.”

The tour guides students through nine sites on campus that are heavily tied to the school’s past engagement in racism.  The history of each site is thoughtfully explained, focusing on the racial injustices that occurred, which had generally been glossed over by the College’s administration.  One site that is particularly well-known among the student body is the Rockefeller Hall servant’s corridors.  It is often mischievously referred to as “The Chamber of Secrets”, where many students flock to sign their names on the shadowy walls.  Although this unofficial tradition is very common at Bryn Mawr, the history of the servant’s corridors often goes unspoken.  The corridors were built as a way for the black servants to move throughout Rockefeller Hall and do their jobs without being seen or heard.  The tour explains that this architectural design technique originated in the dwellings of the European elite in order to further the distinction between the classes - the servants would not even be seen by the upper class.  The Rockefeller Hall servant’s corridors acted as a way for the college to utilize black labor without acknowledging the workers.  If more students knew this, it would surely alter the mystical portrayal of the corridors, which in itself is a slip.

The way the college is presented is full of hypocritical slippage.  It is generally considered to be a highly progressive school that emphasizes social justice and equality.  While this is true to some extent, it blatantly ignores the history of the school which the tour explains.  Although it was progressive for being an early institution of higher education for women, it was (and still may be) wrought with privilege.  The women who were admitted to Bryn Mawr were historically white and upper-class individuals, many of whom had their own maid.  The “Black at Bryn Mawr” tour also discusses this, mentioning that the maids lived in tiny rooms connected to their mistress’ rooms.  Although the administration turns a blind eye to the injustices of the college’s past, they are often preserved in the architecture of the buildings which the school is quite proud of.

The “Black at Bryn Mawr” tour serves an enormously important purpose.  It acknowledges the College’s slippage, and calls us out on it.  However, rather than leaving the situation at that, Pusey and Kioko worked to remediate the slips.  They created this tour to educate the students, staff, and faculty of Bryn Mawr College.  

This is the most powerful way to respond to the slippage of others.  To acknowledge the slip is important, but to educate others about its meaning is vital to change.  If we do not explain why a slip is a slip, then the person who made it will never understand and they will continue to make the mistake over and over.  Slipping is an educational opportunity for those who encounter it.  If the opportunity is taken, it can change the individual, and over time society itself can change.  

The “Black at Bryn Mawr” tour is helping the student body learn from our slippage, past, present, and future.  By acknowledging our past, we lessen our chances of repeating it.  This tour is helping eradicate our ignorance and giving us the opportunity to change.  We all slip sometimes, and we will continue to do so until others show us how to get back up.  Only then can we stand on our own feet.