For those of you who have been off-campus for Winter Study, have graduated or have been too busy to hear, there has been much discussion about a recent op-ed written in the Williams Record, titled “Accepting the Majority.” Many were quick to react negatively to some of the remarks and the expressed sentiment of the piece, my aim is not to condemn the author’s words or feelings. Rather, I simply want to equally express my own personal issues with the talks on difference and diversity, while also addressing some of the points brought up by the author. In this piece, the student is right to note that the College has put special emphasis on recognizing and celebrating “diversity”, or as the author states, “the distinctiveness of the experiences of students who do not fit the traditional mold of a student at an elite liberal arts institution.” However, she believes that this emphasis, particularly for her during First Days was detrimental to her experience as an upper-middle class legacy student. Because of the rhetoric of difference, this author felt that her background and identity was/is undervalued and seen as not as important. As such, she advocates an examination of the ways in which we approach these conversations so as to bridge the divisive feelings in the College community, a goal that we all can agree on. However, the path to that goal differs for me and this author.
Early in the article, the author recalls the first few assemblies for the Class of 2013 where the administration celebrated the number of people of color, international students and first-generation students that made up this class. This conversation led her to feelings of lesser self-worth, as if her experiences, the path she took to make it to Williams, was lessened and cheapened in comparison with the experiences of these select groups. However, I was also a part of those assemblies. What I also remember is the administration mentioning how many women were a part of this class, something the author conveniently overlook. My point is, we need to be aware of who this institution was made by and initially designated for, and thus who the structures of this institution inherently benefit. This college was founded primarily by and attended by upper-middle class or wealthy White men. It was not that long ago when that first class of women was admitted. My point is, there is a stereotype about who comprises the “majority” on this campus. But there is hardly anyone who exactly fits that mold. There are minority legacy students who do not pay financial aid; there are financial aid students that are White, recruited athletes, and many other combinations in between. Because of this, we all carry some quantity of privilege. All of our experiences are unique, different and special, but there we are all individuals. While we may self-identify with one group, we also fit in with many other layered identities simultaneously. Part of the college experience is being able to adapt, grow and change. With this evolution, we will all move through and amongst several “identity” groups, which is natural. If someone feels completely isolated or alienated, perhaps the issue is that they are closing themselves into a narrow and suffocating identity box.
My second main issue comes with the assertion that certain students feel as if they are unwelcome at activist’s meetings, community forums or in specific circles. More specifically, the author addressed the issue of “space.” While acknowledging that it is important to create spaces where minority students feel comfortable, the author says that these spaces should not be unwelcoming to the “majority” because these unspecified spaces are meant to be safe and welcoming to all community members. Here is what I feel. There are certain spaces that are inherently linked to certain minority groups, primarily the Morley Circle houses. While they are linked to specific minority groups, they are already public spaces, free to be used by any community member, just like most any other space on campus. That being said, the primary users of those spaces happen to be individuals of a certain “minority” status. But more importantly, these are spaces that are primarily used by “friends.” For example, the Physics Common Room is another public space, but primarily used by a certain circle. If I were to walk in there, already feeling as if I have no ownership of that space, people can sense that. Furthermore, I would be a new face into a space that is commonly used by a certain circle, no different than a new student walking into a lunchroom at a new school. Now if I were to walk in there and simply introduce myself and let it be known I am there to use the space as they use it, would I be alienated or kicked out? I highly doubt it. All it takes is the confidence to know that you have some agency and right to a space, and reach out. People naturally congregate to where friends are. That is what these spaces are meant for primarily. Now ask yourself honestly, did you walk into the space and take the initiative to bridge any preconceived bridges and find where your identities and interests overlap? Or did you see yourself as a member of the “majority” and those within that space as members of the “minority?”
My point is simple. While there is an idea of a “majority”, there is hardly a person on this campus, or in any community who neatly fits into that category. We are all complex, multi-faceted people. There are absolutely feelings of divisiveness on this campus, and like the author I do believe that they stem from the way we think and talk about difference and diversity. As a community we absolutely must examine and rethink the ways we talk about each of those terms. At the end of the day, we are more often more alike than we are different. But if you tend to focus on the ways you are different, emphasize simply the ways that you are different; then yes you will have feelings of alienation. If you are so quick and feel comfortable subscribing to the idea of the “majority”, then perhaps a part of the issue is the way you define what and who represents the “minority.”
Link to original Williams Record article here http://williamsrecord.com/2013/01/16/accepting-the-majority/