Colby community responds to incidents of bias and bigotry

This afternoon, April 16, hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered on the green outside of Pulver Pavilion to listen to President David A. Greene’s address, responding to a series of events that made members of the Colby community feel unsafe and that many feel are indicative of a larger issue at the College. Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy Jill Gordon, Oak Institute Director and Associate Professor of Government Walter Hatch, and Associate Dean of Students and Pugh Center Director Tashia Bradley also spoke at the gathering in support of those affected and to express the need for the community to take active steps to fight bigotry.

Over the course of the past few days, certain users of Yik Yak (an application through which people within a ten mile geographic radius can post anonymous comments) made derogatory statements directed toward and in response to the students of color and their allies who participated in a campus demonstration on Tuesday. This group of demonstrators, led by the Students Organized for Black and Hispanic Unity (SOBHU), marched throughout campus, holding signs and speaking out in an effort to bring awareness to the institutionalized violence that people of color regularly face, specifically in regard to police brutality.

President of SOBHU Tionna Haynes ’15 wrote to the Echo that, “When people think about protesting at Colby, they think that it will be in convenient spaces like in Pulver or the Spa. We wanted to disrupt your everyday and inconvenience you the way police surveillance inconveniences the lives of communities of color. And as the responses revealed, it doesn’t feel good.”

Greene spoke out against the posts during his speech and noted the importance of activism on campus. “We come to say that an attack on any member of our community is an attack on all of us—that we won’t stand for it and that our strength is in the goodness of the overwhelming majority of this community, who care deeply about social justice and equality,” he said. “We will not be bound by the ignorance and derisiveness and insensitivity of a few. We will insist together that we live to higher principles—that Colby be a place that explicitly values justice and openness, dissent and discovery, difference and diversity.”

“When our students rise to remind us of injustices in this world, they do us a favor. They don’t disturb me. They encourage me to find my better self,” Greene continued, responding to a number of comments that portrayed the protests as a disturbance to classroom activities.

Gordon said that these events should serve as a reminder of an obligation for students, particularly white students, to demonstrate their intolerance for racism and bigotry and against idleness in the face of inequity. The responsibility of speaking out against these actions, she said, should not fall solely on the shoulders of “those students who are the object of these actions.”

In his speech, Hatch spoke to the importance of education and discourse, noting that as a faculty member, he is constantly learning. “The leaders and members of SOBHU took a courageous stand and disrupted classes—[they] got into our heads in a very effective way,” he said. “Disruption of the status quo is something that has to happen routinely.” Hatch also noted the upcoming series of campus dialogues (or “Teach-ins”), scheduled for Tuesday, April 20, and designed to foster conversations about race and difference at the College.

As knowledge of the Yaks became widespread throughout campus over the course of this Tuesday and Wednesday, the Student Government Association (SGA) sent an Official Notice in which they condemned the anonymous posters and released the following statement:

“Here is the stance of SGA on this campus wide issue:

1. We do not strive to build a racist and divisive community.
2. Voicing an opinion is completely justified, bigotry is not.
3. Going forward we will continue to hold our peers accountable to the standards of inclusiveness for which our community strives.”

In the day following SGA’s announcement, Greene presented his own stance on the racism expressed in the posts and extended the invitation for the gathering that occurred today.

Other campus leaders utilized official and club email lists to express their support of SOBHU and their work, as well as to condemn the racism and bigotry inherent in the Yaks. Students also took to the Civil Discourse to reiterate those sentiments.

Bradley, who was instrumental in organizing these dialogues, said that, “Part of the conversation that has to happen and is happening around the idea is not just that students brought forward an idea or an experience that they were having,” Bradley said. “The reality that the very experience they were talking about—not feeling safe, not feeling like they were belonging….[the posts] reinforced for some students, the idea that they don’t belong in this community.”
“[The protests weren’t] about anybody giving them approval, and I think that that’s another piece to that conversation,” Bradley continued. “When people are asking or saying to you that you must get my approval to tell me your story or tell me something is wrong, that’s another way that we silence people and encourage people not to belong.”

In the closing of his speech, Greene lauded the work of those fighting for social justice on campus. “Those who raise their voices in support of social justice deserve our gratitude and our attention. Those who promote bigotry and targeted hatred have no place at Colby,” Greene said. “We must join together to strengthen our community, to fight injustice on Mayflower Hill and in every corner of the globe, and to look every day to the better angels of our nature. I know that we can become the community we want and need to be at Colby, but we don’t get to take a day off from the work that makes it so.”

SOBHU’s programming for this week of awareness continues as planned, and Colby’s faculty and staff are facilitating additional opportunities for support and discussion in the coming days. The Echo will continue to provide updates regarding these conversations and reactions across campus. SOBHU’s final event this week is “#WeHaveNotForgottenYou Freedom Friday.” This day-long open mic will take place in Pulver Pavilion to express feelings through poetry, song, or speech about race related violence and the community responses to this week’s proceedings.

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