White Allies Asked to Support Eliminating White Supremacy in Curriculum

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White Allies Asked to Support Eliminating White Supremacy in Curriculum

John Schurer/The Middlebury Campus

John Schurer/The Middlebury Campus

John Schurer/The Middlebury Campus

John Schurer/The Middlebury Campus

By NICOLE POLLACK

The Hillcrest Orchard was filled to capacity for the “White Allies: It’s Your Turn” meeting last Thursday evening, with students lining the windowsills and crowding onto the floor as organizers Treasure Brooks ’21 and Wengel Kifle ’20 spoke about the need to eliminate racial violence from the Middlebury curriculum. 

The academic institution is the greatest mobilizer of white supremacy.”

— Treasure Brooks ’21

“Repeat after me,” Brooks told the crowd, “the academic institution is the greatest mobilizer of white supremacy.” Attendees echoed her words. Later, asked how she came up with the phrase, she said, “It’s just the truth.”

Promoted as an opportunity for white students, particularly those who oppose campus inequality but rarely speak up outside the classroom, to learn about advocating for racial equity, “White Allies” offered white students a glimpse into the social and academic difficulties faced by students of color. Brooks, who is black, described Middlebury as a site of colonial indoctrination, and said that the first step toward being on the right side of history is to decolonize the curriculum by incorporating diverse viewpoints that are often neglected by academia.

“Decolonizing the curriculum, I think, is to intentionally teach different authors and teach from perspectives that are non-western and non-white,” Brooks said. Most of the academic content used in Middlebury’s courses was produced in colonial and white supremacist systems, she said, and the intentional addition of different perspectives to curricula makes the context more complete.

“It’s not just adding in new voices,” said Renee Wells, director of education for equity and inclusion. “It’s adding in new voices that can name the ways in which our historical modes of thinking are oppressive.”

The event was completely student-run, but Wells described herself as a sounding board for student concerns, including those recently put forth by Brooks and Kifle regarding campus climate and curriculum.

During the meeting, Brooks referred to Carr Hall, which houses the Anderson Freeman Center, as a space for students of color. One white student, seated on the floor in the back corner of the room, turned to the person beside her, and whispered, “What’s Carr Hall?” The other student, also white, just shook her head.

At the end of the meeting, the presenters had participants break into groups by academic department and then passed out petitions, urging students to approach professors about the need for Middlebury to undergo an institutional process of academic decolonization, and to request that faculty members sign on in support.

The meeting organizers began co-writing the petition the day after Brooks served as guest discussion leader for Middleground, a new student group created as a platform at the end of last year for students to share personal stories about the challenges they face at Middlebury. Brooks, a History major, told The Campus about a STEM major who spoke at Middleground and started to cry while describing an experience with intolerance in the classroom, and the profound effect it had on her own attitude toward college academics.

The violence we experience in the classrooms is truly across disciplines.”

— Treasure Brooks ’21

“The violence we experience in the classrooms is truly across disciplines,” Brooks said.

Changing the social climate on campus is a complex endeavor, but Brooks and Kifle see expanding diversity within curricula as a goal that is both critical and attainable. Brooks read the college’s mission statement aloud during the meeting, emphasizing its claim to prepare students to “contribute to their communities, and address the world’s most challenging problems.”

“Whose community are we learning how to help, to engage with?” she said. “Whose?”

Most Middlebury students would describe themselves as allies, Kifle, who is also black, said in an interview with the Campus. But she noted that white students lack the double consciousness held by students of color and, as a result, frequently don’t realize that they are not getting the entire perspective. Expanding the curriculum, she said, helps everyone.

“It’s not that people of color need this more,” Brooks said. “The chasm in our education is more visible to us because we know our own history and we know what’s missing.”

Middlebury’s mission statement promises to prepare students to address the world’s most challenging problems, but the current lack of global, critical perspectives presented in the classroom fails to accomplish that, Kifle said. Limiting the voices available to students to one dominant demographic, specifically white men, hinders the scope of their education and leaves them unprepared to face real world issues.

“Professors are just serving as moderators instead of educators,” Kevin Mata ’22 said, after Brooks invited students of color to share their opinions about the academic environment.

“A lot of them are teaching the way that they were taught,” Brooks said at the meeting. “That does not make it right.”

Kifle told The Campus that the petition circulated at the meeting demands the education Middlebury already claims to provide its students, holding the college accountable for what its mission statement promises.

“What we’re attempting to do is not radical whatsoever,” Brooks said.

We all come with different misconceptions about people who are different from us.”

— Francoise Niyigena ’21

“We all come with different misconceptions about people who are different from us,” said Francoise Niyigena ’21, one of the founders of the student organization Middleground. She started the organization with a group of friends after they realized that they had all come to college expecting to have transformative conversations with people who were profoundly different from them, but that those conversations rarely happened. Niyigena said that most students who currently attend meetings are struggling with some aspect of campus culture, or face discrimination in the broader community, but that the group welcomes anyone who wants to learn.

Middleground meets every other Thursday from 6–7:30 in the Hillcrest Orchard. Kifle will facilitate its next meeting, focusing on immigrant students’ experiences, on March 14.

Kifle told The Campus that the petition serves as concrete evidence of support, but that their main motivation for holding the meeting was to raise awareness about, and increase student involvement in, the process of decolonizing Middlebury’s curriculum. The “White Allies” organizers said they had big plans moving forward, but added that those plans depend on white allies’ continued support.

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