Refuse the Silence: being a woman of color at an elite college

Originally posted in Feministing

Morgane Richardson, a 2008 graduate of Middlebury College, is speaking out about what it’s like to go to a largely white, elite college as a person of color. Ileana Jimenez, aka Feminist Teacher, interviewed her on her blog recently. An excerpt:

I could write a whole book on what I would have said had a microphone been provided! You know, as a student, I wasn’t thinking about policy changes on a big level. I was thinking about the day-to-day, “How do I survive here?,” “How do my fellow women of color survive here?,” “What can we do to make this a little more comfortable for us?” Ultimately, I wanted the college to hear our individual struggles. They made such a big deal about diversifying the school, but there was no integration, no real questioning of how we were doing day-to-day. As for when I wanted them to hear us, the answer is always. I always wanted them to hear us. There should always be a place for students of color to speak out and be heard, not just amongst each other.

I was heartened to read this interview for so many reasons. As a graduate of Barnard College, I often felt like the dynamics of race and class were only discussed among segregated groups, or pseudo-intellectual, depersonalized ways, rather than being taken on directly and with a sense of intersectional responsibility. Barnard is the all women’s college under the Columbia University umbrella–a very problematic relationship.

I came to Barnard thinking that I was incredibly lucky to have gotten in at all, and quickly learned that I would be typecast as both a second-class citizen (Barnard girls, purportedly, only went to Barnard because they weren’t smart enough to get into Columbia) and a slut (“Barnard girls to bed, Columbia girls to wed” was actually uttered with a semi-serious straight-face by many a Columbia man). I have often thought about speaking out about these heinous dynamics so that another first-year doesn’t have to spend precious college time and energy processing it the way I did, but been too distracted to get my shit together.

Richardson is essentially doing the incredibly unselfish and generous thing–making sure others don’t have to feel alone in the same way she did, giving them a resource to depend on in their time of similar need. She is putting together an anthology of writings and visual arts, titled Refuse the Silence, on the topic. Learn more and submit here.

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One Comment

  1. Jessica
    Posted August 10, 2010 at 3:31 am | Permalink

    Hey Courtney-

    Thanks for this post. It is wonderful to see Richardson speaking out against an institution that so blindly prides itself on diversity without addressing the realities and implications of that diversity.

    I’m a recent, but avid, feministing reader, and didn’t know that you were a Barnard alumna. I just graduated from Barnard this past May, and I never once experienced the type of anti-Barnard nonsense you are describing. Of course I’ve heard “Barnard to bed, Columbia to wed” and that Barnard is the back-door into Columbia (mostly from the people who post hateful comments on BWOG because they have nothing better to do), but never was I treated like a second-class citizen. If anybody I interacted with throughout my four years actually believed either of those things, they certainly never regarded me as such. I was always treated with the same respect and held to the same standards as my Columbia counterparts. I don’t mean to wax idealistic, trivialize the experiences of you and others, or suggest that our work is done. I thought you might be pleased to know that the dynamic and relationship between Columbia and Barnard students, in my experience, appears to have evolved and improved. As a prospective student, I was often warned of the antics you describe, but throughout college was constantly surprised and delighted by the mutual respect I observed between Barnard students, Columbia students (men and women alike), and faculty (again, men and women alike).

    Your recollection that issues of race, class, sex/gender/sexuality do not have a diversified enough academic forum is valid, and still an unfortunate reality. There are, however, budding organizations around campus that are actively creating space for this type of colloquy. In particular if you’re interested, you should check out ROOTed, Respecting Ourselves and Others Through Education, http://www.studentaffairs.columbia.edu/multicultural/diversityed/rooted.php

    What has changed about campus culture between your time at Barnard and mine, I can’t say. Perhaps your generation of Barnard women left your mark on the community in ways you never got to realize or experience. At least we are headed in a positive direction. Thanks again and keep it up!!

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