Racial is­sues lead topic for #WACLikeMe

Kent County News - - FRONT - By LEANN SCHENKE lschenke@thekent­coun­tynews.com

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.”

PHOTO BY LEANN SCHEKE

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.

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