A Call for Allyship

By Guest Contributor

Dear Middlebury Community,

Through this letter I want to address a previous op-ed named “Letter to the Middlebury Community.” I would like to thank the author for writing this article and his good intentions, but I would like to address some things that need to be clarified. I would like to disclaim that this is my voice only and that I speak for myself in the following paragraphs.

I want Middlebury to be a safe space and I want to call it my home. However, this is incredibly difficult when there are so many issues unresolved that affect the quality of our education. Amongst many of them are mental health, academic stress, issues of inclusivity, but also cultural stress.

I would like to introduce quotes from an article in The Atlantic that a friend shared on Facebook the other day. The article is “The Cost of Balancing Academia and Racism” by Adrienne Green. “Amid the protests of the last several months, the conversation about racism on campuses has prompted debates about free speech, political correctness and the utility of students being uncomfortable. But do students of color face a more tangible risk than their white peers? Is navigating these complex environments challenging their mental-emotional well-being?”

Political correctness does not silence our potential allies. Political correctness is needed in order to identify for oneself and to others as an ally. It is through this sensible approach that constructive questions can be asked. In the process of learning political correctness, one can learn about systems of oppression that render certain actions and words unacceptable and damaging to the integrity of a community such as our campus. We have witnessed the effects of these in the past and their repercussions on the community and individuals. It is indeed a trial and error process, but more steps need to be taken in order to change the campus culture.

“Many students of color not only have to battle institutional racism, they also have to engage in academic environments that condone microaggressions and stereotyping. This can make these students feel like they have to outshine their peers in the classroom to disprove the notion that they are academically inferior.”

I want to believe that no one on this campus is inherently racist. Maybe misguided, possibly very ignorant, more likely under-exposed to diversity. Regardless of someone’s intentions behind certain actions, what is most bothersome is the indifference displayed by many within our community. Students of color and other minorities devote more of their already limited time and energy to making cultural organizations their safe havens where they can feel comfortable, despite the arduous academic demands. At these organizations, discussions on important topics such as interracial dating, slam poetry, police brutality, immigration issues and environmental racism are held very frequently. Yet, the meetings are only composed by minority students. So where are the allies?

“Should colleges ask historically marginalized students to become grittier and more resilient, or should their focus be directed toward achieving greater racial justice so that black students do not have to compromise their mental and physical well-being by being resilient?”

I want to clarify something now. Students of color and other minorities do not want to be coddled. They want to be heard. Students of color already went the extra mile in order to host events where allies can join them and listen to their perspective on a certain topic. All that remains is for those who want to become allies to show up at these events. It’s an issue of representation and solidarity.

When the Black Student Union held a black-out day, there was a very visible way to discern who wanted to identify themselves as an ally. It was an amazing sight to see, and was comforting to know that people do care about these issues. However, wearing black one day does not compensate for the work that we could be doing as students with different levels of privilege on a daily basis. This is, therefore, an open invitation to those who want to become allies to also go an extra mile and reach out to cultural organizations. Attend the meetings and rallies, listen to new perspectives, be present and proactive at giving support, empower those with less privilege, expose others to their prejudices, be an advocate for human rights, protest injustices. These are small steps that could ultimately lead to a change in the campus culture, a change that truly shows solidarity.

Esteban Arenas-Pino ’18 is from New York, NY and Colombia.