From the Archives: Race and Marginalization at Haverford in 2007

This past semester, race on campus was a popular topic of discussion and debate among the Bi-Co community. The hanging of a confederate flag at Bryn Mawr College in September resulted in a demonstration attended by members of the Tri-Co community, and inspired opinion pieces authored by Lee Anderson ’15 and The Clerk’s own Zach Gabor ’15 and Andy Beck ’17. In November, the BSL Blackout opened up discussion about race on campus with their anonymous response board, with the goal of allowing community members to freely share their experiences. Student groups, such as Transformative Inclusive Diversity Engagement (TIDE), took steps this past semester to change the culture of race on campus.

These conversation initiated last semester are likely to carry over into Spring 2015, but what did professors and students think of race on Haverford’s campus in 2007? Check out this Bi-Co News article, featuring quotes from Professors Gould, Okeke, Sedley and McGuire to find out. Thank you to Bending the Arc, a national organizer of social justice movements, for finding this article!

Profs Organize Race Discussion at HC

May 1, 2007 – Joy Heller HC ’11

Haverford students and faculty responded to the YCampaign posters and the Apartment 46 search during the Faculty SpeakOut and the YCampaign discussion last week. The events promoted widespread discussion of race and marginalization on campus.

The YCampaign posters, which included expressions such as “I am tired of white people playing ‘the victim,’” created much controversy due to the provocative nature of the expressions, using the expressions without context, and the anonymous posting of these expressions. The GO/Boards thread ‘Why? Posters’ sparked this debate, generating 196 posts and over 6800 views.

An opportunity for faculty to address recent events was organized by Professor of Political Science Cristina Beltran and Professor of Religion Anne McGuire. McGuire and Beltran held an emergency faculty meeting Sunday, where the idea of a Faculty SpeakOut was proposed. Wednesday’s SpeakOut brought over 200 community members and 30 faculty to Stokes Auditorium, including President-elect Stephen G. Emerson ’74 and Dean of the College Greg Kannerstein ’63.

“Students don’t know what the faculty are thinking about this issue,” Beltran said. “We don’t get the chance to talk about very specific things to specific populations.”

The next day, YCampaign organizers invited community members to a forum held exactly one week after the posters went up followed by the GO/Boards debate. About 80 community members, primarily students, attended the discussion. Dean of Academic Affairs Phillip Bean and Dean of Student Life Steve Watter were also in attendance.

Mike Clifford ’07 was a vocal opponent of the YCampaign posters. In an interview with The Bi-College News, he said “The people behind it almost had a double standard because it felt that there was a lot of anger. At times, I almost felt like there was racism that fueled that campaign—it was almost like a racist, anti-racist campaign.”

Bobby Danforth ’10 also felt that the posters were fueled by anger. In an interview with The Bi-College News, he said “The posters seemed like an attack on a certain group—I don’t associate the YCampaign with the issue of unconscious marginalization on campus.”

YCampaign members said that they never intended to frame it as a black and white issue. They said that the YCampaign is intended to address all disenfranchised groups on campus and the race-focused posters constituted only one aspect of its objectives.

YCampaign members also said that criticism of the structure of the campaign is an attempt to avoid the message of the campaign. “Instead of asking a question, they just dissected the sign,” Misha Baker ’10 said.

West also said that backlash from the YCampaign posters will alienate those who need to hear its message most. “It’s too complex of an issue to have a poster—to teach people about the complexities of these issues,” West said. “I’m afraid that people will talk about it, people will come back, some people may do something different—but for the most part, the campus will stay the same.”

West, however, is pleased by the faculty mobilization resulting from the YCampaign. “When faculty are pissed off about something, they usually get their way,” he said. “They were the most upset about the expansion idea and they were the ones who shut it down—If they start beating their drum, I feel like we could really go somewhere.”

In response to the posters, Aimee Lanning ’09 said that she felt an initial frustration, “a feeling that we’ve done this before.”

At the Faculty SpeakOut, Beltran invited comments on recent events. She also encouraged discussion on diversity in academic and intellectual life at Haverford. “Classes on race get framed as service and not scholarship,” she said.

Some faculty members recognized the discontent among students of color as expressed by the YCampaign. “I don’t think students of color are thriving here the way they should and until we work to change that, this is not necessarily the best place for a lot of people to be,” said Assistant Professor of Biology Andrea Morris.

Many faculty, however, feel unqualified to remedy the problems experienced by students of color. “We do not have enough expertise on this campus to grapple with some of the things that are going on,” said Assistant Professor of Biology Iruka Okeke.

Okeke spoke about office visits from students. “They are almost always African-American students; most of them are brought to me in a crisis. They are coming in to ask for something that I do not have. I don’t know what to tell them. I can only listen to them. I can only nod or shake my head.”

Several faculty members acknowledged personal feelings of marginalization on campus. Visiting Instructor of Religion Terrence Johnson spoke about being asked to present his faculty ID by security while walking on campus. “We will not admit that when you see black people, you do see a sense of the criminal and until we address that issue, we can’t talk more about it,” he said.

“This is a place where people come to be comfortable,” said Associate Professor of French David Sedley. “This is how this place is advertised, this is how it’s marketed. So no wonder there’s a problem with diversity here, which is all about discomfort. In other words, Haverford and diversity in a way don’t go together by definition.

Sociology Professor Mark Gould presented his challenge to the audience. “When we use the notion of a community, we have to use it in a way that doesn’t enable us to be comfortable and safe but allows us to be within an environment that is safe so that we may be discomforted,” he said.

Faculty also discussed the treatment of staff, who are mostly people of color, by other constituencies. “My own particular sense of trouble is the outrageous way that we as a community treat the staff on campus,” said Professor of History Emma Lapsansky. “This pains me, it infuriates me, and it is not just students. It’s us faculty who treat the staff as if they are machines who feed the important work we do with our heads here.”

McGuire hopes that other faculty will step forward. “I just felt called this time since I attended WeSpeak to get involved and I hope at least that more faculty will have the same kind of experience that I did of waking up to the fact that there are problems at Haverford and that the college needs leadership from every division,” she said.

Members of the YCampaign were present to answer questions about the campaign’s origins, the posters, and its plans for the future.

“It was conceived of as an umbrella campaign to target ‘Haverapathy,’” Misha Baker ’10 said.

Julian Whitney ’10 said that preconceived notions of Haverford as an accepting community may lead people to overlook a lot of questionable comments.

Baker said that YCampaign has already met with members of the administration, including Emerson, to discuss structural changes. Baker said that the YCampaign’s foci include increasing funds and staff for the MCC and increasing the number of faculty of color, particularly in the natural sciences.

Members of the administration have been very impressed by the YCampaign’s efforts. “The YCampaign was in the finest tradition and—in the tradition of the early [19]70′s,” Kannerstein said. “I was struck that there was a great deal of pain out there.”

President Thomas R. Tritton thinks the campaign is effectively changing Haverford culture. “Sometimes we are a little too nice, a little too unwilling to confront in constructive ways,” he said.

Ultimately, the campaign is attempting to rectify historical institutional woes. “I think we have a problem talking with groups in the community,” Kannerstein said. “Historically, Haverford’s had a really, really hard time with that.”

 

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