At the end of last term, a group of students of color released a statement and an attached document on the Lawrence University Committee on Diversity Affairs’s (CODA) Facebook page. This document was comprised of two parts: a list of policy proposals and concerns about specific LU employees.
The “List of Demands” generated a torrent of ideas, emotions and controversy surrounding the issue of race in our community. As colleges across the country find themselves experiencing similar paradigm shifts, Lawrence is currently in the midst of a major change in its approach to diversity and inclusion.
Conversations from Fall Term 2015 left many confused, upset and angry about the state of race relations at Lawrence. The administration’s new policies are a step in the right direction, but one thing remains clear: there is a serious gap in the perspectives of students of color and students of greater privilege in regard to race and ethnicity. The latter party has begun to ask, “What can we do?”
The appropriateness of this question is dependent on the intended audience. Are they asking themselves, or are they placing the burden of an answer on students of color? Marginalized students are not by default the ambassadors for their community. Students of color should not be forced to bear the burden of educating other students.
Repeatedly, students with marginalized identities have stood up, spoken out and created formalized spaces in which students can see eye to eye. Sankofa-CODA conversations create a space in which students of color can speak out safely and comfortably. These have been theperfect opportunities for students of privilege to listen and learn. Additionally, speakers such as Angela Davis, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ify Okoye have shed light on contemporary issues of race, religion, gender and sexuality with their lectures and speeches on campus.
It is now the obligation of students with greater privilege to learn, listen and utilize these resources to improve the campus climate. Lawrentians are provided with a great wealth of resources to educate themselves on social issues. But those resources alone cannot erradicate the prejudice at Lawrence. To fix those broken parts of our community, Lawrentians must critically think about the racism faced by their peers and colleagues.
In this pivotal moment, every individual associated with Lawrence University must re-evaluate their day-to-day behavior, understand how their actions affect others and consider their active or passive participation within a system that marginalizes certain members.
We share an obligation to educate ourselves and listen to our peers. However you feel about the demands made last term, it is evident that a significant body of students feel unwelcome and unsafe at this school.
Each of us are here because we believe in the benefits of a liberal arts education. But when some Lawrentians are deprived of the basic needs of safety and hopes for educational opportunity, our entire community suffers.
***This article was edited on Friday, Jan. 22, 2016 to correct statements that misrepresented the definition of “privilege,” along with a report that wrongly conjoined two documents as part of a single report statement.