All College Day panels engages issues of racial equity

Lea Brown ‘15 discusses the origin of her last name at an All-College Day panel titled “Talking about Race, Racism, Inequality and White Privilege.” Students considered issues raised during the Tim Wise lecture. By: Katie de Heras
Lea Brown ‘15 discusses the origin of her last name at an All-College Day panel titled “Talking about Race, Racism, Inequality and White Privilege.” Students considered issues raised during the Tim Wise lecture. By: Katie de Heras
Lea Brown ‘15 discusses the origin of her last name at an All-College Day panel titled “Talking about Race,
Racism, Inequality and White Privilege.” Students considered issues raised during the Tim Wise lecture. By: Katie de Heras

On Tuesday, the campus hosted several panel and group discussions as part of All College Day, an all campus community-oriented program of events that took place from Monday evening to Wednesday. The Tuesday discussions took place in the afternoon and focused on the topic of “Race, Privilege, and Power.”

All College Day has been an institution at Vassar for many years and has featured a wide variety of themes including “Bursting the Vassar Bubble,” “Building Community at Vassar,” and “Engaging Campus Tensions.” According to the Office of Campus Life and Diversity’s website, one goal of All College Day is “to create open and honest dialogue on matters of campus life.” Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity Ed Pittman explained further: “The goal of All College Day is to bring together all members of the campus community to think about and discuss issues on campus and to work together as a community to build solutions.”

This year was different in that All College Day actually spanned several days, beginning with the Tim Wise lecture on Monday and proceeding through a series of discussion on Tuesday before the more traditional community-building events on Wednesday.

Each discussion on Tuesday was led by either a member of the faculty, administration, a specific committee on campus or the student body. Every discussion approached the theme from a slightly different angle. As Director of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Julian Williams, who led one discussion, said, “We want to talk about something relating to the wider theme while also talking about something that no one else was talking about.” Discussion topics included white privilege in the LGBTQ community, race-conscious admissions in higher education and racial profiling and policing on campus.

Williams continued, speaking on Monday in anticipation of the event. “The overall theme is race, power and privilege. Each conversation is expanding upon that theme. They’re three words but they mean so much to different people and different groups. Being able to expand upon that in a different way or take a different angle… is something I find really enjoyable and I’m excited to see what others are doing.”

Mr. Williams helped facilitate a discussion entitled: “A Shift in the Paradigm: The Diversity Imperative at Vassar and Changing Landscape of Race Conscious Admissions in Higher Education.” He focused on the political issue of affirmative action and the ways in which Vassar can continue to maintain a diverse and inclusive environment. Before the event, Williams made his goal clear: “What I hope to do… is just have a big conversation on these issues, to try to engage all the participants.”

Another discussion that took place on Tuesday was titled, “’What does it feel like to be a problem?’—A Conversation about Student Life, Profiling, and Safety.” This discussion was the second installment of a three part series hosted by the Committee on Inclusion and Excellence. Students, faculty and administrators discussed the ways Vassar students can respond to issues of racial profiling and how to improve and regulate interactions between students and security. The discussion also focused on ways in which Vassar College relates to the surrounding community and how successful the college is at welcoming outsiders and how we define who “belongs” here.

Assistant Director for Campus Life/LGBTQ and Gender Resources Judy Jarvis ‘07 and Kate Dolson ‘13 hosted a discussion titled “White Privilege in the LGBTQ Community,” in the LGBTQ Center during the first blocked off period. Designated by the All College Day planners as a campus-only discussion, over a dozen students  worked to address both the role of white privilege in the Vassar and at-large LGBTQ community. The event asked white students to describes instances of their own complicity in overt and covert forms of racism, and students of color to explain their history of being affected by these forms of racism. The facilitators asked students to discuss these experiences in small groups and then illuminate the act of owning racism and white privilege to the group at large. The dialogue also dealt with the role of racism in Vassar’s dating culture and the student’s discussions and opinions on national issues, such as marriage equality.  Jarvis explained, “[Jarvis and Dolson] were excited to lead this session, coming from a space of both identifying as white queer women, and that so often conversations about racism and conversations of white privilege are led by people of color. And that people of color too far often…undeservedly have the burden of explaining to other, or elucidating these topics, when it is our responsibility to own it.”

Angelica Gutierrez ’13, a panelist in the discussion, praised the number of people who attended the discussion on Tuesday. “I’m really excited about the turnout. This is actually the second of three discussions and the first one wasn’t well attended.” Pittman echoed the optimism felt about the amount of attention these discussions were receiving. He noted, “Each discussion had about 20 people, which is good. But that adds up to over 200 people which is really powerful.”

Gutierrez continued by stressing the importance of events for Vassar like the one she was a part of. “It shows that the Vassar community is interested in community issues. We care about everyone who visits campus.”

Williams agreed with this sentiment, underlining the importance Tuesday’s discussions had in making this All College Day a success. “We need to maintain open spaces so we can have these conversations, and we don’t always have to agree on them. That’s the point I always try to bring out is that… we can all think differently, we can all feel differently but let’s talk about it and let’s create the open spaces where we can. Then we can all learn from each other.”

Ultimately, people responded to the events positively and praised both the faculty and administrators who hosted the events as well as the students who attended them. Said Williams, “I think everybody’s done a really good job. We ‘re just hoping to keep adding to these conversations.”

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