Claremont McKenna College
The women in this photo all go to the Claremont Colleges in Southern California–the girl on the right in the appropriative “costume” goes to Scripps College and the rest of the students go to Claremont McKenna College (also where I attend school).
I can’t begin to describe how awful my experience as a black woman has been on this campus. One of my first experiences that have made me feel so isolated on this campus was during a writing seminar my freshman year. We were reading James Baldwin’s Notes of A Native Son, and I began sharing my experiences as a black person in a white dominated space when a white student stopped me mid-dialogue. She proceeded to tell me that she wanted to stop my “pity party” and told me that I was “light enough” that I could just straighten my hair to pass as white/non-black. I share with you this example to show that this image above is not an isolated incident; this is my everyday reality.
After taking some time and talking to supportive friends that are part of the POC community, I came to the realization that I have been silenced at this institution for two and a half years and it was time to speak up. I made the picture my cover photo on Facebook with the following message:
Dear Claremont community,
For anyone who ever tries to invalidate the experiences of POC at the Claremont Colleges, here is a reminder of why we feel the way we do. Don’t tell me I’m overreacting, don’t tell me I’m being too sensitive. My voice will not be silenced. I’m mentally drained from being a part of this community and I’ve had enough. If you feel uncomfortable by my cover photo, I want you to know I feel uncomfortable as a person of color everyday on this campus.
Immediately the women involved Facebook messaged me with what they considered to be an apology, although they were really just excuses and pleas to remove the photo.
Here are screenshots of the apologies I received:
And then this email sent by the woman holding the “Sorry” sign, including our Title IX/Civil Rights Chief Coordinator:
I would also like to add that this student is our Junior Class President and had another incident of culture appropriation last semester. For her “speech” she did a rap performance in what I would consider blackface without the makeup, and then in her inaugural email called herself “ratchet” and included a gif about how she needed a rap name.
After this email was sent to administration, she sent me a FB message:
Another friend of mine made the photo her cover photo as well, with the caption “Culture is not a costume.” She responded with the following in a private message to her:
All contact with these women stopped after we made it clear that pictures were not being removed. This shows that their intent was not to actually apologize, but to get us to take down the image and forget it happened.
An hour after my post was made, the Dean on duty for the weekend called me. She did not ask me how I was feeling, if the administration could support me in any way, or give me any insight to disciplinary action that would follow. Instead, she let me know my classmates were “distraught” and “disappointed in themselves for their actions.” She made aware they took down their photos, and asked me if I had considered doing the same or thought about how they might be feeling. I stopped her there. She was under the impression the student contacted her to be a liaison and start a conversation with me to apologize. She had already sent her apology, she was hoping for the dean to silence me and make me remove the photo. I told the dean the reality of this whole incident, this is how POC feel everyday at this place. To that, she wasn’t sure how to respond and let me know she would contact the Title IX coordinator and have her respond to the students email included above. Her response consisted of this “Hello [name removed],I can appreciate the concern. If all parties are open I would like to find a time for us to meet and discuss this incident. I am open to facilitating a conversation.Let me know,[name removed]” and that is all I have heard since. No other administrator has reached out to me except one professor who reached out to me and told she was in full support of my actions.
My school has made it clear it does not care about its students of color, and they are in no way supportive of our efforts. I take to tumblr to boost this post– please share this on your blogs, share the original post on FB, and utilize any other platforms where you have a voice. It’s time to put the pressure on institutions to make a change.