I am writing this open letter to the incoming VSA president Ramy Abbady and to Vassar faculty members who share his views. As a former student with a Vassar degree, I understand that it is both faculty and students who determine campus programming, and I wanted to raise some concerns.
Over several years, you have uniformly expressed the view that campus programming should always support black and brown bodies. I am a Middle Eastern, Turkish young man. Why do you speak of bodies like mine in the abstract? I never hear specifics about brown bodies when you raise this issue. It makes me think that you are afraid of black and brown bodies, or worse, that your use of the term “body” is a word game that demeans the reality of the body.
I would be surprised to see campus programming about my hairy legs, my thick beard, the hair between my eyebrows (which my partner, and before that my mom, used to force me to pluck), my milky almond skin, and the musty odor under my arms, which I cover with Primal Pit paste made of natural coconut oil. I bathe my body with goat milk or tallow soap and use raw egg yolks to add protein to my hair. I drink raw, unpasteurized and cultured goat milk whenever I can get a hold of it, like my ancestors. I gain weight quickly on cow’s milk, because my forefathers didn’t have cows. I add rose water to my tea, which is so fragrant it would make any Confederate drinker of Southern sweet tea pass out, as he deserves much worse. My body is healthy and strong because of my love for wise, ancestral traditions. My last name “Hassan” speaks towards my body. It means handsome, unshaven one.
You all say that one big way to defend black and brown bodies is to protect Islam from criticism on campus. Does this mean that black and brown bodies belong to Islam? I don’t think this beautiful body of mine belongs to Islam anymore than it does to the Crusaders. Black and brown bodies pre-date Islam and Christianity.
I co-founded the Vassar Conservative Libertarian Union, because I see a lot wrong with the discourse on Vassar’s small campus. If VCLU or another campus group chooses to have programming this academic year that criticizes radical Islam and defends Israel, like Marc Thiessen’s 2015 VCLU lecture or William Jacobson’s 2014 lecture for the VCLU, then I will still support their VSA protected right to do so, whether or not I agree or disagree with the content of the lecture. In the event that this happens, I would like to see a real discussion about black and brown bodies because it took me some courage to describe the realities of my body in the Miscellany News rather than a forum, and Vassar needs courage.
Lastly, thank you Ramy for defending the 2013 VCLU Alex Epstein lecture on fossil fuels. The VSA used to be divided over this, with some thinking it was racist and some not.
My Middle Eastern body stays plump with an olive gloss, because industrial farm methods and infrastructure powered by cheap, carbon energy allow so many more people to be alive on this planet today.
Congratulations on a new year at Vassar College, Ramy. Let’s set our minds to make this the year of the body.