For Students Of Color Who Resist When Silence Is No Longer Enough: Lessons From #BeingSafeAtHartwick

04/04/2017 09:46 am ET Updated Apr 05, 2017
#BeingSafeAtHartwick is a movement to raise awareness about the experiences at Hartwick that are subjected to silence.
#BeingSafeAtHartwick is a movement to raise awareness about the experiences at Hartwick that are subjected to silence.

The trauma faced by youth of color on college campuses continues to rise in epidemic proportions in the United States. Amidst growing white supremacy, xenophobia, and misogyny in our educational institutions, colleges have increasingly become sites for the presence and disavowal of racialized gendered violence.

Last November, a hate crime happened at Hartwick College – a predominately white, private liberal arts college of 1,392 students in Oneonta, New York. A group of Black women who are students at Hartwick were violently attacked by drunk white male soccer players. The young women were charged with “Harm to Persons” for defending themselves, while the male attackers who hurled dirt and snow while shouting “Make America white again!” were charged with “public drunkenness.”

Recently, Meg Nowak, Dean of Academic Affairs, released a statement to Hartwick students, faculty, and alum in response to the growing resistance to the institution’s decision to charge the women. In the letter, she attempted to justify Hartwick’s decision to charge the young women with “Harms to Persons” for fighting back, denied their claims of self defense, and subsequently repudiated my critiques of the institution’s response. The letter concluded with a description of Hartwick’s (piss poor) record of “diversity and inclusion”.

Both the attack and the institutional response prompted student resistance on campus and on social networking sites, particularly regarding the lack of protections and advocacy for women and people of color in predominately white educational institutions like Hartwick.

[Will you join us in demanding that Hartwick protect the lives of students of color? SIGN THIS PETITION and help us spread the word!]

THE ERASURES OF INSTITUTIONAL DIVERSITY

The attack reflects the broader landscape of racialized gendered violence against youth of color, especially Black youth. At its core, it reflects the dynamic dehumanization reserved for women of color in general, and Black women in particular. These terrors evolve from a history of callous neglect and systematic abuse in jail cells, courtrooms, workspaces, hospitals, and educational institutions.

What remains unclear is how predominately white administrators plan to address the logic of contemporary racism within their disciplinary process and larger functioning of the institution. Sociologists note that this type of racism “is much less overt and often comes in the form of downplaying or minimizing existing racial disparities.” We see this as administrators insist they uphold values of diversity and inclusion even as their recent response reveals how they institutionalize unsafe spaces.

Scholars of race and racism express concern that the “public messaging of campus racial climates by college and university leaders is deeply entrenched within the larger ideologies of colorblindness and diversity.” We see this as Hartwick College touts its creation of an Office of Intercultural Affairs as evidence of their deep commitment to promoting racial inclusion, while their leadership and senior faculty ranks remain overwhelmingly white and segregated.

What remains crystal clear is that Hartwick is thoroughly unprepared to address the undercurrent of racism on its campus. Any effort to address “diversity” and “inclusion” at educational institutions like Hartwick will require that administrators, students, and faculty reconcile diversity efforts with the decades of traumatic realities many marginalized students (and faculty and alumni) face within campus spaces. Until then, the core values outlined in Hartwick’s recent diversity statement remain largely uninformed and symbolic.

As threats of violence and death become real possibilities in living and learning spaces such as Hartwick College, they invite us to consider the forms of resistance and organizing that can help address the erasures of institutional diversity and the silences in the halls of administrations.

STUDENT RESISTANCE AND ORGANIZING

Public outrage on social media and grassroots organizing among people of color remain catalysts for national discussions about violence laced with anti-blackness, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia. For instance, the #SayHerName movement has played a pivotal role in exposing the boundaries and contours of anti-black state violence against Black girls, women, and transgender people. Their efforts provide fertile ground to cultivate strategic coalitions that address the intersectional experiences women of color face in and beyond educational institutions.

Lee Fisher, Vice President of the NAACP Oneonta chapter, speaking to a group of highschool and college students during the pr
Lee Fisher, Vice President of the NAACP Oneonta chapter, speaking to a group of highschool and college students during the protest meeting.

The family, mentors, peers, and a lawyer of the young women as well as the local chapter of the NAACP organized a protest meeting with Hartwick administrators to address the young women’s criminalization in order to raise awareness about the campus’ racial climate and the silences of institutional diversity. We were joined by 25 high school students and 6 teachers from a New York City public high school.

At that meeting, a defensive administration met face to face with many students of color who claimed the space as they passionately queried: Why should students who look like me come to Hartwick? Hartwick administrators have yet to provide a meaningful response.

Negotiations from a private meeting with the young women’s lawyer and the administration resulted in minor changes to the women’s charge: they will now get “Harms to Persons” on their file, with a phrase describing that they were provoked. This change is largely symbolic, but what the unfolding events reveal is that: collective organizing and strategic resistance is critical in a world where some lives matter more than others.

For this reason, the young women have started #BeingSafeAtHartwick – a movement and campaign that intends to raise awareness about the other educational experiences at Hartwick that are subjected to silence. The women note that #BeingSafeAtHartwick stems from their experiences with racialized gendered violence and the outpouring of sexual violence that many alums and students have described to them since the hate crime. Importantly, they note that #BeingSafeAtHartwick was developed to catalyze student and alumni resistance and cultivate strategic coalitions among allies.

To all students of color suffering in silence at predominately white educational institutions like Hartwick, I hope you sustain the righteous rage amidst dynamic dehumanization that allows us to strategically challenge indignity, captivity, and violence.

That’s the only way we can all live quality lives.

This post originally appeared on Abolition Collective.

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