Breaking Down Barriers: The Oak Student Committee’s spring manifesto

Last spring, the presidential election loomed over us as we explored the systemic violences we saw emerge from the bricks that hold together the college we call home. This fall, the election shook those same bricks and brought our attention from Mayflower Hill to Capitol Hill.

Now, this spring, we as the Oak Student Committee want to unite those two perspectives. We see our nation in transition, but we know that our community is in transition, too. We understand the nation and the Colby community are not distinct but rather inextricably linked. An anonymous Colby student made this clear in the recent Slate article in which she earnestly spoke about why she will have to leave Colby should her family be deported as a casualty of Trump’s proposed immigration policies.

We know the nation is the College is the community. We’re here to ask: is it accessible? In addressing this question, we believe we have begun the long-haul changemaking process of breaking down barriers.

At its most obvious form, the Slate article describes what happens when barriers are built. Walls build walls. We are here to tear them down. This spring, we come together in the name of justice, equity, compassion, empathy, and anger to break down barriers. From the Muslim Ban, to the restriction of access to healthcare, to the effects of sexual violence on campus, to having more students from the top one-percent than the bottom 60-percent, to dropping a class because the textbooks are too expensive, to being physically able to access a space, we know and hope that the question of access will look different to everyone.

We want to bring the campus together to listen and to break down barriers together. This means not shying away from big questions and beginning to see this campus as a small part of a democratic whole. The Oak Student Committee invites and encourages the community to exist in the discomfort these conversations necessitate, recognizing that what makes these conversations difficult is also what makes them important.

The Oak Student Committee has put together a three event series, “Breaking Down Barriers,” to address issues of access at both macro and micro levels. The series will begin with a keynote talk by Lauren Duca, Contributing Editor at Teen Vogue, who will speak about the importance of making the news accessible to every audience, including groups like teenage women who have not historically been told that it is important for them to be informed about current events. We will also be hosting a creative event in the Mary Low Coffeehouse, where we will cover the space in canvas and encourage participants to visually depict what borders mean to them. Our final event will be a Listen-In, where we will ask students to share, either anonymously or themselves, their responses to the question “what keeps Colby from being accessible to you?”

Issues of access have never been more important, whether they manifest themselves at the local, national, or international level, and the Oak Student Committee feels an obligation to tackle these issues here on campus.

We invite members from every corner of the Colby community to engage with us—be it by attending the events, encouraging your friends to show up, or submitting a narrative—in the hopes that doing so will lead to a more accessible Colby for all of us.

The Oak Student Committee is the body of students that works to bring the Oak Institute’s mission to life on campus. We work closely with each fall’s Oak Fellow, assisting with their work while they are on the Hill and publicizing programming to highlight the amazing human rights related work they do at home. This fall, we worked with Khalid Albaih, a Sudanese political cartoonist, to learn about what art can add to our understanding of human rights. Each spring, we are responsible for our own programming and tend to focus on how larger human rights issues specifically play out on our campus. Last year we concentrated on the idea of “Reclaiming Sex.” In this event series, we highlighted issues of consent and sexual assault through a variety of mediums.