Wow. The all-college meeting was possibly the most intense thing I have ever been to.
A “Fact Sheet/Timeline” was handed out. Though certainly incomplete, i was really glad they finally distributed one, because almost all the incidents were basically rumors. I mean, they did happen, but no one knew the facts about what had happened; it was all, “Well, I heard....” The first of numerous times i cried that day was reading that timeline. I think part of the reason was that seeing it in writing like that made it real, made it official, that these horrible things had really happened, had really happened here.
Jennifer Walters, Dean of Religious Life, and self-identified lesbian, was the last of the panel people to speak before the forum was opened up to everyone, and she is now one of my favorite people. She said that when bell hooks was here a few weeks ago (just after the first death threats at Gardiner, i believe), she (bell hooks) had said that we need to gather around the table of love. Then she read the following (I know i’m not getting it exactly right, but it’s close.) and reminded us to go at this with love.
If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing. If I move mountains, take crayons to bathroom walls, but have not love, I am nothing. If I march in demonstrations and carry signs but have not love, I am nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. Love bears all thing, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
And then the forum was opened up. Two microphones (one in the left aisle and one in the right). Anyone could come up and make a comment, question, statement, anything. When people on the panel were getting applauded every other sentence i was thinking, “We’re never gonna get out of here.” When they said they were opening up the forum to everyone, i felt even more like we were never gonna get out of there.
The Students Grassroots Organization sent a letter with 19 demands to the administration, and a copy was also e-mailed to every student. Some of the students who came up to microphones had questions or comments for the Grassroots Organization or the administration regarding some of the demands. People also shared stories of racism and other discrimination at Smith. Some white students tried to empathize with what students of color were going through, sharing stories of discrimination or persecution that they had suffered. Some of them were actually laughed at. Okay, so some of them were naive or sounded like they were tokenizing or whatever, but they were trying. And you don’t laugh at people. Not in a forum like this. How are we supposed to have dialogue when certain people aren’t allowed to speak, when certain things aren’t allowed to be said? I felt some of the stuff brought up wasn’t really appropriate for this forum, but how can one say that? It’s an open all-college forum. Someone brought up something which was actually fairly relevant (I wish so much that i could remember what it was.) and was told by one of the students on the panel that this wasn’t the appropriate place for it. Various audience members asked what was the appropriate forum then?
In his opening remarks, John Connolly talked about September 11th and the recent events here being, unfortunately, something of a frame for our year here. One student, who broke down into tears and had to have a friend read her prepared statement, said that yes, the situations are very similar, but they are also very different. Where were the calls for diversity training and such after September 11th? Another student said that while much of the language being thrown around now is very similar to that after September 11th (“We are at our most vulnerable and also at our strongest. We come together in solidarity against bigotry and intolerance.”) this situation is also very different. “Within hours [of the incidents of September 11] we had panels, lectures, even a website. I’m still waiting for the panels, for the lectures, and -- a little curiously -- for the website.” The first written death threats in Gardiner occurred April 5th; there were incidents at Cutter and Gillett last semester; why did it take so long for is to have an all-college meeting this time?
Around 5:45 (when dinner starts) Dean Walters said that dinner would not be postponed, so if anyone needed to leave, that was okay. I was really glad that she said that because earlier one of the students on the panel had yelled at someone for going to leave. That upset me a lot. I had had to go to the bathroom for a while, and emotions were really high; though i didn’t leave i thought about it. Who knows why that girl went to leave? Maybe she just had to go to the bathroom. Maybe she felt she needed, for her own emotional health/stability, to remove herself from that environment. And yes, emotions/tensions were running high and we shouldn’t judge people solely on their behavior that afternoon, but i was still upset by it.
At our house meeting (which only lasted an hour and a half and was much more low-key) someone pointed out that this is an example of classism. If dinner wasn’t postponed, that means that the kitchen staff wasn’t at the meeting. This wasn’t an all-college meeting.
I came home and felt so drained and shaken. There was no way i was gonna get any work done. People had talked about their lives being disrupted by this, especially problematic because this is crunch time--only a few weeks left in the semester. It occurred to me, What if i felt like this all the time? Obviously i don’t know what it’s like to receive death threats, can’t know what it’s like to be the victim of racism every day, but that feeling of being drained, shaken, overwhelmed, gave me a clue as to how it must feel.
“White privilege means not having to think about racism if you don’t want to.”
What am i supposed to do? I want to learn more about white privilege over the summer. I’m much more aware of racism, homophobia, and classism than i have ever been and am trying to be much more aware, interrogating my thoughts and words and actions. (In class on Friday, Gary said we are all racist and homophobic, all of us, which i thought was interesting.) What else am i supposed to do? I think that is part of what is so frustrating is that a lot of us want to do something to make this better but don’t know what to do.
A (white) friend of mine is one of those people who rarely cries, who has trouble crying even when she wants to. She has been a lot of personal problems recently, but now she finds herself unable to cry for herself, crying for 2600 people instead. This sounded a lot more powerful when she said it and it was fresher in my mind, but i think that’s one of the things that’s so frightening about all this--how small it makes our own personal problems seem in comparison.
Coming home after the 3-hour long all-college meeting i realized how important it is to have actual real people to hug; virtual hugs just don’t cut it when something is this bad. I wanted to talk to people who weren’t involved, who were wholly removed from this. I wanted to be held and comforted. I wanted to cry. By the time we had eaten, it was only about an hour until our house meeting, so i didn’t call anyone. After the meeting no one was online, so i puttered around for a while trying to figure out what i wanted/needed. A friend IMed around 1:30 and while i wanted to vent about everything that had happened, i felt so drained and knew i didn’t have the energy to type it all. I asked if i could call him. I started talking about everything that had gone on and found myself actually stumbling over my sentences. We got to talking about other things--his college, high school, the bookstore we worked at over the summer. At 4am i finally let him (and myself) go to sleep. I was so grateful, though. That was what i needed--to talk about things not related to all the insanity here, to lose myself in comfortable conversation about things unrelated. I am so grateful for that conversation.
"can't somebody's god fix this?"
Mia is creating a website for all this. This lifts me up.
This is the original post (cross-posted to the smithies community), and this is an update (also cross-posted to smithies).