Attention, please, Allegheny administration: an open letter to you

To all administrators at Allegheny College: I am tired of your emails. “Tired” is actually somewhat of an understatement — I am beyond exasperation, somewhere into the realm of infuriation, and I can only imagine plenty of other students feel the same way. I believe that the experience and expression of anger can be productive in catalyzing change; for this reason, I feel it is my responsibility to convey my discontentment in a public, candid manner. 

I have been made aware that Dean for Institutional Diversity Kristin Dukes recently met with the Culture, Identity, and Leadership Coalition to discuss racial injustices on campus. During this meeting, students in CILC presented a list of seven demands, several of which have been met, albeit not to total satisfaction. The demands were as follows: administration should email professors to encourage them to address the many instances of racial violence that have occurred recently, acknowledge Breonna Taylor’s tragic story by saying her name, apologize for using the term “blacks” to refer to Black people, address student activism on campus, inform students that they planned to remove signs and posters left on the Campus Center after the vigil for Breonna Taylor, acknowledge the potential for a response of racial violence following the vigil and make a statement condemning the forced hysterectomies occuring in immigration detention centers at our border. The last two of these demands have not been met, at least at the time of writing this.

Before I get into my critique of how most of these demands were met, I would like to point out the fact that these requests were really quite simple and could be accomplished with little but a handful of emails and some reflective thinking. The bar is so low. 

Let’s talk about how President Hilary Link addressed the Breonna Taylor vigil in her email titled “Activism and Advocacy on Campus.” She stated that the administration supports “BIPOC community members,” adding that “[w]e hear your voices.” Seeing as her next paragraph immediately changed the topic to Campus Center guidelines for posting content and peaceful assembly, I feel that these words of support were largely empty. Despite the fact that she returned to her initial effort to express solidarity in her closing, nearly half of the email was about Campus Center policies — for this reason, I really feel she missed the point, both of the vigil and the demand she was addressing. The priority is clear: upholding rules about posters is more important than actually showing empathy for Black students, and more important than the woman whose life the vigil was meant to honor. I don’t know about you, but I feel like the world we live in necessitates sometimes breaking rules to do what is right, and there is no doubt in my mind that the vigil was the right thing to do — posters, chalk and all. 

Regarding Link and Dukes’ email with the subject line “An Apology Regarding the May 31, 2020 ‘Statement on Recent Racial Injustices,’ ” I want you to stop and think about everything that has happened between the end of May and now. It has been months, and racial injustices have certainly not disappeared, yet it seems that this email was not important until CILC pressed the issue. The subject line also omitted the reason for the apology: using “Blacks” instead of “Black people.” For those who are not yet aware, the noun “Blacks” is dehumanizing in that it reduces the people to whom it refers to the color of their skin, whereas “Black people” asserts the humanity of persons who have Black skin while still acknowledging that skin color is often an important element of peoples’ identity. 

The email ended with a few links to articles of varying relevance. There was a nice Scientific American blog that asserted the importance of prioritizing impacts over intent when it comes to offensive language. What was less nice were the articles regarding casual misogyny and accidental sexism. Although they made some good points, they were entirely tangential to the issue of racism. Had these articles been about misogynoir, a term that refers to misogyny specifically as it disproportionately affects Black women, it would have been a different story, but as it was, these articles merely detracted from the point: Black lives are constantly under surveillance and the threat of violence in the United States. Why can’t you just say that, and leave it at that? This apology, which does not even apply to me, was honestly insulting.

I could go on — and maybe I will in future articles — but I think I have made my point sufficiently clear. I could criticize administration for failing to meet two of CILC’s seven demands (acknowledging the forced hysterectomies happening at the border and the potential for racist backlash towards the Taylor vigil), but somehow I do not think merely checking these things off the list would be all that productive, anyways. 

In conversations about race and racism, I can only speak to what I have learned from Black authors, theorists, educators and peers, and I do not mean to position myself as an authority on racism by writing this. All I know is that in my years at Allegheny, I have seen administration misstep far too many times to give the benefit of the doubt anymore. I am tired of it, and I am angry that Black students are forced to defend and demand their own humanity on a regular basis on this campus. I have seen Link’s name all over @blackncac, an Instagram account that allows “Black students, alum, faculty, staff and parents [to] share experiences” of racism on campus anonymously, and these submissions do not exactly make me think well of her. 

More than anything, I want administrators to ask themselves a few questions: what can you do to lessen the emotional burden Allegheny College has carelessly dumped on Black students? Why are you okay with repeatedly making Black students feel out of place here? Seeing as these issues keep coming up, what do you need to change? What do you need to do to let Black students rest? 

Whether or not this recommendation for self-reflection is taken or not will be evident through your future emails. They are far more tired of this malarkey than I am.