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Blackout Board Denial or Something Else?

SergioDiaz's picture

At the end of last semester, Haverford's BSL created what they called a "Blackout Board." This was an anonymous online response form that BSL created online to allow people to freely express their thoughts about race at Haverford and posted these responses on a bulletin board in Haverford's Dining Center. They generated a wealth of responses from students of color describing bad experiences and micro-aggressions to students describing the lack of communication across racial divides. Some even denied the negative experiences and attributed them to "victimization." There was one response, however, that captured administrative attention and student body concern which was: "Fuck white people." Now although this was the most aggressive comment on the board and perhaps the most unproductive in terms of naming the problems causing the racial divide, it was the one that received the most publicity and sparked the most conversation. Most of this conversation, however, criticized the BSL and the Blackout Board as an "Honor Code Violation" and because of its anonymous nature they believed it to be against Haverford's community trust. I remember reading for the first time the Haverford Clerk article written about the board and being frustrated at the use of language the White author used. She described the Blackout Board as a way to gauge how students thought race was handled at Haverford and using an interview with President Weiss to strengthen her report painted the Board as an ineffective tool to start dialogue without offering an alternative. Although she was writing to inform the public about the event she completely missed the point and purpose of the Board. 

The Blackout Board was meant to acknowledge the racial divide and lack of campus communication about issues of diversity, race, and class. Many students of color felt that for the first time, through the anonymous forum students were able to have important conversations about diversity. It was interesting to me how Haverford as an institution and Haverford students reacted to a Board as a violation of trust and a wrong way to start conversation about the marginalization of students of color. Before BSL took action, however, there has been no action to have an active conversation about race at Haverford for years and it seemed like Haverford students and faculty were comfortable in their culture of neglect. I mean for years students on campus have attempted to open conversation about race with events like We Speak and other programs through the OMA but there has generally been no support from the institution. So the big question is, where do the interests of the institution lie? Is the fact that the school was built and created for upper-class white males the reason minority students feel marginalized at Haverford? Why school that champion their progressiveness still exhibit the qualities of a school right after the era of integration?

After this whole incident, the school has been taking steps to improve the diversity through initiatives like the Diversity Task Force and TIDE and hiring an OMA coordinator but the question in my mind remains, why has this taken so long? I guess this isn’t much of an event that happened to me specifically as much as it is an event I’ve experienced. Regardless I’ve learned quite a bit about political action or inaction and have learned a little more about what it means to be marginalized in a foreign place. I have also found myself questioning my positions of privilege and lack of privilege in different social contexts and checking that privilege to ensure that I don’t trump on others with my beliefs.


jccohen's picture


Your post really starts to crack open the question of what counts as legitimate/important/helpful "communication" or dialogue -- and who gets to frame that communication by setting it up and then commenting on it later.  This instance is interestingly complicated because one group of folks set up the dialogue while others seemed to be in a position to define (and perhaps delimit) its meanings in the aftermath.  It seems that differently positioned folks had a different stake in this:  what kinds of conversations they wanted to have and valued, and for what purposes.  In this context a comment like "Fuck white people" can be provocative in the sense that it can tap into real, complex issues that usually lie beneath the surface (as in the Moyenda article we'll read for Thurs.) and in this sense it's an opening; on the other hand, this kind of comment disallows a complacent sense that we're a community that's already done this work, and so in that way it can be scary - also problematic in that, once surfaced, it's public.  While the college is "taking steps to improve the diversity," as you say, where did this leave folks on campus in terms of exposing new layers and instigating those "important conversations"?