On Friday, May 6 and Saturday, May 7 the Alliance for an Inclusive Middlebury (AIM) held its inaugural symposium, entitled “Activists, Allies and Accomplices: Responses to Racism Today.”
AIM was formed earlier this year by President of the College Laurie L. Patton, and is comprised of students, faculty and staff. The group’s responsibilities include launching initiatives to foster inclusivity, giving regular progress reports to administrators and publicizing statistics regarding the College’s institutional diversity.
The symposium began Friday evening with a panel on allyship that featured undergraduate students from the College as well as graduate students from the Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
On Saturday Rinku Sen, executive director of the racial justice organization Race Forward, gave the keynote address. In her speech Sen detailed the evolution of her involvement with racial justice issues. As an undergraduate student, she said, she paid little attention to activism of any sort until friends staged an “intervention.”
“Denial is like a drug,” Sen said. “It does make you feel better, it gives you relief, but you have to keep taking it, because something’s gonna bring you back to reality.”
Sen later attended a student rally. “For the first time in the 12 years since my family had immigrated, I felt like I belonged” she said.
“That was the moment where I understood that being an American isn’t about looking like Marsha Brady,” she said. “It is about investing in your community with all the people who are in it to make it the most inclusive, most effective, most fair community it could be.”
Sen shared that her devotion to activism keeps her grounded in the United States.
“Every election I’ve experienced since I started organizing, someone says, ‘If so-and-so wins, I’m moving to Canada,’” she said. “And every election, I say, whatever happens, I’m going nowhere. This is my home, I’m an American. And I expect some pretty rough times, and a fair amount of suffering. But I know that if we keep going in the ways we have been going, by organizing, by changing the rules and tools that control our lives, I know we can achieve peace that comes from justice, and not from repression.”
Sen’s speech was followed by a panel of student activists, including Angie McCarthy ’19, Rana Abdelhamid ’15 and Ashley Bomboka, a current senior at Bowdoin College.
Asked about her experience with activism at Middlebury, Abdelhamid shared that she felt disillusioned as a freshman.
McCarthy said that during her short time at the College, she has tried to identify various potential avenues for activism.
“I started my work here in much more informal settings, with conversations within my commons and within my friend groups, as well as going to different cultural orgs and having conversations there,” she said. “Most of my activist work has been through AIM, and right now we’re working to create a more inclusive Middlebury that all of us can not just enjoy, but grow with.”
Bomboka said that she has learned from her activism at Bowdoin to be “as solution-oriented as possible.”
“[Early in my college career] I was just angry, and I was mad and I wanted to say everything I wanted to say,” Bomboka said. “That can’t get you far, because you’re not engaging people — it’s just putting yourself out there, and nobody can really work with that, even you yourself can’t really work with that. So always keep that glass-half-full approach, and try to find ways to connect with other people, versus staying in your own zone of anger and venting.”
The symposium concluded with a speech by Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a faculty panel on issues of race, difference and power.
Patton, who attended the entire day’s events, told The Campus that she valued the symposium’s inclusion of diverse voices and pragmatic focus.
“I think it’s been a fantastic event so far, partly because of the voices that have been part of the conversation,” she said. “We’ve had student and faculty voices from Monterey, from Middlebury and staff voices from Middlebury, as well as other colleges like us, like Bowdoin.”
“I’ve also felt like the conversation was really constructive and focused on things that we can do, and best practices,” she said. “And the more conversations are focused on best practices, the better off we’re all going to be, and the better off we can make Middlebury.”