Dialogue equips community with tools to combat racism

On Tuesday, the Vassar community gathered in the College Center MPR for the conclusion of the All College Day’s discussions on identity and diversity. This year’s theme is (Un)silencing voices. Photo By: Spencer Davis
On Tuesday, the Vassar community gathered in the College Center MPR for the conclusion of the All College Day’s discussions on identity and diversity. This year’s theme is (Un)silencing voices. Photo By: Spencer Davis
On Tuesday, the Vassar community gathered in the College Center MPR for the conclusion of the
All College Day’s discussions on identity and diversity. This year’s theme is (Un)silencing voices. Photo By: Spencer Davis

For the 14th year, Vassar is hosting All College Day. The theme this year is (Un)silencing Voices and many lectures and discussions lead by guest speakers, professors and administrators took place Feb. 17 through 19. According to the Campus Life and Diversity website, “The purpose of All College Day is to bring members of the Vassar community together for interaction and reflection on how we see the campus.” It also read that, “[The day] is for multiple discussions and engaging events which seek to highlight our challenges as well as our strengths.”

An afternoon of discussions was facilitated on Tuesday, including topics of how to cultivate resilience in oneself, cyber culture, classism and social identity.

The second day ended with a closing dialogue of “Finding the Language: Let’s Talk about Race and Racism” facilitated by students in the “Pedagogies of Difference Education” seminar. According to the Campus Life and Diversity website, “The purpose of the dialogue was to provide participants with the appropriate language and information needed to understand racism, and to unpack what racial justice means on Vassar Campus.”

The discussion took place in the CCMPR, and each table was assigned two facilitators from the education class to discuss the four levels of racism, two on the micro level and two on the macro level. The two micro levels were internalized racism, which are beliefs of oppression and privilege in oneself, and interpersonal racism, which is racism between individuals and bringing private beliefs into interactions with others. The two macro levels were institutional and structural racism, the first being inequitable treatment and impacts within an institution and the second being a bias across institutions in society where there are systematic privileges and disadvantages appointed to particular groups of people.

The participants were asked to read a case study on a Vassar incident and then discuss what about the study fit into the four different levels of racism. The case study focused on a group of white male students who hosted a Mug night called “Free Weezy” in 2010 in response to Lil Wayne’s incarceration, using stereotypes of Black culture and misspelled words in the posters and on the Facebook event page, including “purple drank.” The event was attended by white students and students of color. According to the case study distributed at the event, “One self-identifying Black student sided with the hosts of the Mug night, claiming that ‘as a student with family who still keeps a vat of oil at all times for fried chicken, enjoys themselves a kool-aid everyone and again and have more baby mamas than wives, I was not offended by the free Weezy mug night.’” This take on the events was criticized by others who argued that this perspective reinforced stereotypes and conformed to oppressive ideals.

Participants identified the four levels of racism within the case study in their small groups, and later, discussion was opened up to the whole room. A question was asked about how to categorize somebody holding a racist belief but not acting upon it. A participant answered that by not acting upon it, you are still supporting racism, saying it was like riding an escalator. If one doesn’t do anything, one will keep going up and going along with the dominant stereotype.

After general discussion, there were five breakout sessions that people could attend and talk more specifically about certain issues, including educational outreach programs, micro-aggressions in the classroom, dialogues about social spaces on campus, problematizing allyship, and what happened to Black history month.

Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life and Diversity Ed Pittman talked about the purpose of All College Day and this year’s theme. He said, “Each year of All College Day has a specific theme. This year it is ‘(Un)silencing Voices.’ It is our hope that the theme resonates in one way or another to everyone on campus. With several events spread across the three days, we ask that the campus choose those events they can access and take part.  With the opening lecture, we see that time as a connecting event and want to draw the largest amount of people.”

With this year’s theme, Pittman explained the importance of giving everyone a chance to share their voice and story. He said, “Some of the greatest change within our community has come when student voices reflect their narrative experiences within the college and offer paths for transformation. We also hope that students, and others, reach across communities and boundaries to build relationships that promote community.”

Pittman then explained the origin of All College Day, saying, “The first All College Day occurred in February 2001, ten months after an April 2000 racial incident involving the use of the ‘N’ word by a student comedy group. Students at that time were particularly articulate about Vassar doing an event that would sustain across time and that would not be solely reactionary to a crisis event. All College Day was born out of that spirit and we are proud to be in the 14th year.”

Pittman continued, “Along with All College Day, which is held during the third week in February, the Campus Life Resource Group also plans several dialogues during the year, most notably the Conversation Dinners and dialogues that campus community members bring to us.”

Pittman acknowledged that the work All College Day sets out to do is an ongoing process that is not finished yet. “It was never the intention to have All College Day be seen as a single day of work to address concerns that we know require more sustained dialogues and institutional work,” he concluded.

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