The speaker for this year’s All College Day celebration will be queer black feminist scholar and author Alexis Pauline Gumbs. Every year, All College Day features a keynote speaker and a theme that is meant to address issues germane to the campus climate. Working with Vassar administrators, faculty and students, Gumbs crafted a talk that fits into the themes of self-care and healing. Her talk is titled, “Breathing in Chorus; Self Care and Communities in Transformation.” She will open the All College Day festivities on Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. in the Villard Room.
Gumbs’ work focuses on the intersection of race and gender. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Barnard College, Gumbs went on to earn a Ph.D. in English, African and African-American Studies and Women and Gender Studies from Duke University. Her poetry has appeared in several publications, including Kweli, Vinyl, Backbone and Everyday Genius.
A press release from the office of the Dean of Campus life and Diversity Ed Pittman described Gumbs’ activist work. “Alexis is the founder of Brilliance Remastered, a service to help visionary underrepresented graduate students stay connected to purpose, passion, and community. She is co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming Project, a national experiential archive amplifying generations of Black LGBTQ Brilliance.”
Pittman played an integral role in selecting Gumbs and organizing the All College Day proceedings. Pittman expressed a strong interest in fostering healing across campus following last semester’s tumultuous campus climate. “When we started our planning process back in the fall, for All College Day, we had four or five students on the planning committee and we started thinking, ‘So what should our theme be?’ and what kept coming up was, ‘How do we heal as a community? How do we take care of each other? How do we take care of ourselves?’” he said.
Many students spoke of a feeling of fatigue or disappointment after a semester of high intensity protest and social activism, a concern Pittman shared. Hoping that Gumbs will be able to rejuvenate many community members who feel burned out, he said, “I think a lot of students who had been very active in one way or another, many were pulling back and not wanting to be involved because there was a lot of toxicity and pain and energy spent. I think this theme has already generated a number of good activities.”
Kali Tambree ’17, a student who was on one of the committees that helped to organize the All College Day events, also spoke to this recurring sentiment of fatigue and frustration. “[A]s a group, we began thinking about potential themes for All College Day this year by honestly contemplating the upset that many Vassar students have expressed to both administration and to peers,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “We wanted to thoughtfully incorporate many sentiments regarding the violent lack of support from the administration in a way that would induce healing and solidarity.”
Tambree emphasized the need for Vassar students to learn self-care in their activist work. “We also thought of this theme as a means to address a general absence of discussion of the ways in which Vassar students need to practice self care for their own well-beings and mental health as well as for the preservation of a safe and supportive community on campus,” she wrote.
With regard to the lecture, Pittman was hopeful that Gumbs would able to foster frank discussion about the processes of change and transition at Vassar. Sometimes, according to Pittman, compromise and collaboration are necessary. He explained, “She will hopefully talk about what it means to have to reach across to the other side [of the conversation] to build communities even with people who you may disagree with and people who you may perceive as being in power and not listening, but how do you stay open to that kind of process?”
Part of the theme of the talk focuses on communities in transition. Change is not a foreign concept to Vassar. Pittman recalled, “Being a student here and having worked here for 25 years I don’t think there has ever been a time when we weren’t in transition.”
Insofar as Gumbs’ studies relate to the event’s overarching themes of care and support, Pittman was optimistic about the lessons members of the Vassar community will be able to draw from the talk. “I think what she is going to draw upon is this healing way that women and other feminist thinkers have coalesced around: supporting one another. We can draw from that and where we are as a community.”
Tambree explained the vision she had for students’ involvement in the events of All College Day. “I think a successful All College Day would entail campus wide participation,” she wrote. “I would like to see students from varying social and political circles. This would ideally manifest in a diversity of identity in participation.”
She went on to comment, “I’d like to see a willingness to learn, support, and question amongst the students, and I would like for the event to extend to participation from faculty, staff and administration.”
At Vassar All-College day in 2013, the themes were race, power and privilege and the topics discussed were white privilege in the LGBTQ community, race-conscious admissions in higher education and racial profiling and policing on campus. In 2014, the keynote speaker was Janet Mock, a trans woman of color, writer and activist. Now, the 2015 All College Day speaker will be Alexis Pauline Gumbs, described on her Feminist wire website as “a queer black troublemaker, a black feminist love evangelist…co-founder of the Mobile Homecoming Project, a national experiential archive amplifying generations of Black LGBTQ Brilliance.”
According to its website, The Campus Life and Diversity Office’s primary aim is to enhance the quality of campus life for all students through advancing Vassar’s mission to provide a socially responsible and inclusive education. A committee of this Office, the Campus Life Resource Group, has planned an annual All College Day at least since 2008. Vassar celebrates All College Day as a day to bring all members of the campus community together for interaction and reflection.
It would seem that there are a plethora of other issues that would be more suitable for an All-College Day at what is purported to be a leading liberal arts college. In an insular environment such as Vassar’s, it is too easy to limit oneself to only agreeable opinions and bringing forward similar issues year after year may be politically correct but does not smack of intellectual honesty. In practice, many voices are silenced on the campus. Vassar students are not exposed to diverse alternative opinions on such issues as global warming, fracking, immigration, job-creation, tax policy, healthcare or the United States’ role in world affairs. Students might be stimulated to have intellectual civil discourse if speakers with views opposing the progressive ideology on these matters were invited to campus. A more appropriate theme for an All College Day would be a balanced two-sided “frank discussion” on the lack of tolerance at Vassar regarding political opinion and the lack of diversity of opinion at Vassar on the important matters of the world today. This would be far better than a day devoted to expressing frustration about “campus climate,” an issue that has become an abnormal fixation unrelated to reality.
Vassar College has been named the most economically diverse top college by the New York Times. The class of 2018 is 16.4% Asian, 7.5% Black, 12.3% Latino and 0.2% Native American. The total including non-citizens of color is 42.4%. Cultural and economic pluralism has been the stated goal of Vassar for many years. However it appears that after four years of being subjected to one-sided politically correct doctrine, the Vassar graduate has become anything but diverse and tolerant. He or she has not been given the opportunity to study a diversity of perspectives. It is critical to the development of sound judgment that students be exposed to faculty whose scholarship reflects more than one side of a gamut of issues. An All College Day to explore how and why intellectual intolerance defines the Vassar campus, with speakers expressing differences of opinion, would be a good start in going beyond exaggerated hyperbole about Vassar’s “oppression of brown and black bodies” and expressions of “frustration, “pain,” “fatigue” and “toxicity.”
This issue of the Vassar Misc also has an article entitled Vassar’s Donations Dip as Fundraising Campaign Ends. That article states that “financial officers at the College remain relatively unconcerned with the discrepancy in charitable giving.” The website Feminist Wire, under which Dr. Gumbs writes, has as its banner “end white supremacy.” It is apparent that she has a cognitive orientation that believes there is universal white supremacy in the United States and that white privilege is pervasive and the cause of all social injustice. Given their singular focus on racial profiling, campus climate, sexism, homophobia and classism, their intolerance of the voicing of alternative opinions, Vassar students appear to share this worldview/weltanschauung. The majority of the dollars that Vassar receives comes from graduates who are privileged, either through their own honest efforts or the enterprise and hard work of their families. The alumnae/alumni that support the education of today’s Vassar students aspired to attain the positions that they now hold and now possess the privilege of financially contributing to Vassar College. It would be wise for Vassar’s administration, faculty and students to reflect upon two cautionary proverbs, “Do not bite the hand that feeds you” and “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
My hat is off to your astute command over this toioa-brcvp!