Racial issues lead topic for #WACLikeMe
CHESTERTOWN — College is that state of limbo between childhood and entering the real world. Students begin to feel the responsibilities that come with adulthood while still able to rely on their parents and live in the relaxed atmosphere of a campus. For many Washington College students however, that time can be riddled with needless stress.
Five members of Alumni of Color gathered at Hynson Lounge at Washington College Thursday evening, Feb. 16 for the discussion #WACLikeMe. Panel and audience members conducted an open conversation on diversity and race within the college community and what can be done to improve it. The discussion was attended by college faculty members, including Dean Patrice DiQuinzio, and a few Washington College students.
“We are a minority within a minority here,” Kia Michelle Massey, ‘00, said. Massey from Baltimore is now a teacher in the city. “I kinda felt alone when I was here even though I was black, because everyone that was here, they were all from D.C ... Socially and culturally we are very different.”
Taylor Johnson, ‘18, served as the student media- tor and opened the panel by asking the five alumni how Washington College can be more diverse. Johnson said the school has a conflicting sense of what diversity should look like.
“For me diversity is not this idea of the skin color. There are cultures, genders, disabilities ... ,” Christine Lincoln, ‘00, of Baltimore said.
Lincoln won the Sophie Kerr Prize, awarded each year to a Washington Col- lege senior for literary excellence. It is the nation’s largest literary prize awarded solely to undergraduate students.
Last week’s panelists highlighted the problem of the college marketing itself as a liberal arts school, but with a campus that does not reflect that. They called for a more racially inclusive campus and for administrators to be more sensitive to racial and cultural differences.
“Diversity is not just about skin colors, it’s not just about black students ... In orientation I was told I must sit over there with all these black students ... That wasn’t necessarily my group ... You wouldn’t force another student to sit with students because they all have blonde hair,” Leah Singleton, ‘01, of Washington, D.C. said.
Training professors and public safety officials to be more aware of cultures was offered as a potential solution. Much of the unease and tension on the campus was due to public safety of
ficials appearing to target
black students more than white ones, and students feeling as if they have no one to talk to about it.
“I didn’t have a choice to leave,” Colleena Calhoun, ‘99, of Washington, D.C. said. “Things would happen and no one would talk about it. You don’t want to rock the boat. I wanted to get my education.”
A few students in the audience told of their discomfort on the campus, saying it was not what they expected. Their wish became to get a degree as fast as possible and leave.
“You’re going to be paying for this experience for possibly the next 30 years of your life,” Massey said. “It’s going to impact whether you can get a house, a car, what type of job you feel comfortable taking.”
Despite the resentment for how they were treated at the school, the alumni who attended the event were grateful for their time at the college. For many of them, their first experience of racism occurred on the campus. Those instances prepared them and taught them how to deal with it after they graduated.
“I love my school, but you have to take a stand,” Singleton said. “Here at Washington College, I was made more aware of racism. I still love my school despite this, but you have to fight for change.”
Many of the alumni said their friends from the college do not want to return because of their experiences there, and that no changes have occurred. They said when they come back and participate in discussions such as #WACLikeMe, the students air the same grievances each year.
“Even a Sophie Kerr winner won’t come back here,” Singleton said. “We need to build a community here. We need to bring about a dialogue. And yes, you will ruffle feathers, but that is how you bring about change.”
A few students in the audience described some of the racism they have felt on the campus and within the community. They asked the panelists for advice in dealing with the racism on and around campus.
“(Public safety’s) favorite thing is ‘I smell weed’,” Symeon Turner, ‘19, said, “There’s no way you can always smell weed on us unless you’re the one smoking it ... They can search me and they won’t find weed ... It extends to the Chestertown police. We are constantly harassed and pulled over for nothing ... They smell weed all the time on us.”
Freshman Amanda Mede had a racial slur yelled at her by a person driving past as she walked down Washington Avenue to her job in Chestertown. “How do we fight that?” she asked.
Students were urged by DiQuinzio and the members of the panel to come forward and report these instances. They said the school administrators must be notified after every instance of racial intolerance, and students need to feel comfortable coming forward.
For students from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. who attended primarily African-American high schools, coming to Washington College often means experiencing racism for the first time. The panel members urged students to stay and learn ways of dealing with it.
“In a sense I’m grateful for the experience because now I know how to deal with racists and racist systems in place,” Singleton said. “There are some built-in comforts and cushions at this school.”
The discussion lasted for about an hour and a half. Though the conversation veered away from diversity and more into coping with racial intolerance, the panelists remained optimistic about race relations within the college community. They urged the community at the college, both black and white, to be responsible for the racism and to take a stand against it.
“We are humans and we are in this mess together. You have to decide what degree of yourself you can give,” Lincoln said. “How can you sit on the sidelines anytime a person is being violated? Because if someone else is being violated, everyone should feel violated. It’s everyone’s fight.”
A panel of alumni discuss diversity and race in Washington College’s Hynson Lounge Thursday evening, Feb. 16 as part of the event #WACLikeMe. Panelists included, from left, Jenny Hutton, coordinator of the event, Collena Calhoun, Ariana Cork, Christine Lincoln, Kia Michelle Massey, student mediator Taylor Johnson, Leah Singleton and freshman Symeon Turner.