“This is not about one person,” said Richa Sharma ’14 to the crowd of gathered students. “This is about everyone.”
This past Friday, following a controversial article in the Carleton Literary Arts Publication (CLAP), a student-organized rally was held to address the issue of discrimination on campus. In the warm sunlight, several hundred Carleton students—some bearing homemade signs with sayings such as “Communication,” “Dialogue” and “This generation has the power to end discrimination”—crowded in front of Sayles to listen to student submissions about discrimination on campus. Ultimately, the rally’s organizers received dozens of hand-written submissions, addressing issues varying from racism, sexism, and heterosexism to the stigma against mental health and disabilities.
Although the initial CLAP article—which focused on offensive statements made by one student—inspired the rally, both organizers and participants were quick to emphasize that while the article served as a catalyst, discrimination is a campus-wide problem that needs to be discussed, rather than an issue limited to one person.
“You usually experience discrimination in covert ways on campus, but the CLAP article was more overt, and distributed publically. It felt like a slap in the face. It was a catalyst, but it’s not the reason we [organized] the rally,” said John Gitta ’13.
“To see words like that written down—it was distributed publicly, and no one did anything about it,” said Zach Baquet ’13, one of the rally’s main organizers. “Something needed to be done to inspire permanent, long-term change, not just in little pockets on campus, but through real conversations among students,” he said.
Several days after the article’s publication, a group of students met to discuss what might be done to alleviate issues of discrimination on Carleton’s campus. Eventually, the idea of the rally began to take shape. The goal, explained Baquet, was to raise awareness and generate responses from Carleton students, faculty, and administration.
“In order to get an administrative response, we needed a student response,” he explained. “We wanted to get it out to campus. The rally was not about what was said in the CLAP article, but something much greater.”
In roughly four days, over a dozen students helped to put the movement together, meeting on consecutive evenings before the Friday rally.
“We all agreed—we wanted something public, we wanted people to know about the larger issues happening on campus. We thought, if people walked past the rally, or heard one thing spoken, it could spark things,” says Jordan Butler ’13.
Sayles was selected as the best location for the rally, partly because it is an open public space, and partly because the location is very popular, increasing the rally’s visibility. Over 200 students, faculty members, and administrators ended up stopping by; because the microphone was open to any student who wished to speak, students were also able to come up up individually and say whatever came to them.
“We wanted students to come, see, and hear [the message],” said Butler.
“It’s important that students realize what’s going on. No change can come about if students aren’t aware of what’s going on.”
Some students read their own submissions. Francesca Garcia ‘13 read a monologue she had written, offering her reflections on discrimination on campus.
Her piece, she explained, was inspired by a variety of sources, including
discussions with friends on campus about how we’ve been perceived and the disparity between this perception and our self-identification,” as well as many books, the “Define American” presentation and dialogue, the Viewpoints section of the Carletonian, and recent Soapbox articles. On a more philosophical note, she was also inspired by “reflections on [her] life and personal experiences at Carleton and abroad.”
These experiences, she explained, were combined with “a strong, urgent, desire to contribute something from my heart about discrimination as I’ve lived it while providing my response for moving forward--to write not for everyone but to bring something toward everyone.”
“I believe that having the Carleton community open up about issues of discrimination is a decidedly positive step, albeit a challenging one,” she said.
“We must face that we make what we perceive are logical assumptions about people, categorizing, labeling, and type-casting and that we do not like it when the same action is done to us. I love the golden rule, but we even have to be careful about this. I’m not saying we need to side-step things and be extraordinarily PC. That’s not it at all. I think it takes boldness to be observant of others’ and assert our self-identities when it makes everyone uncomfortable... what we really need is frank, honest sharing.”
Dean of Students Hudlin Wagner also approved of the rally, and referred to herself on Friday as “a human being” first. Wagner also stated that she believes the movement “represents the commitment and affirmation of our community for initiatives that will be developed to promote civility and the free exchange of ideas.”
The original CLAP article [entitled “A Conversation About Race in America”] was a contentious article submitted by a student who documented a conversation he had with Phil Glass ’15, who reportedly made discriminatory comments to the student.
“I think the conversation written up in the CLAP was different from the one we actually had, but I got a lot of backlash from the article. I met with the Dean, and she said students were really upset,” explains Phil Glass, ’15, of the words written about him in the article.
“I didn’t think it would blow up this much. To me discrimination isn’t a big issue [that I was aware of]. I didn’t realize it was such an issue, but I’m learning,” Glass added.
Ultimately, the organizers hoped that Friday’s rally was just the beginning of an atmosphere of open discussion on campus.
“After the rally…even the atmosphere seemed lighter. People weren’t just being Minnesota nice—it felt like they really wanted to connect with you,” said Halah Mohammed ’14.
The group has formed an organization called “D.A.R.K. Nation,” (Distributing Anti-Racial Knowledge), and has begun to meet more frequently to organize a new series of talks, promoting open discussions about discrimination.
Ultimately, most students and organizers felt that the rally was a success. “It definitely went beyond my expectations,” said Baquet.
Matthew Fitzgerald ’14 agreed. “It’s about moving forward,” he said. “We don’t want to lose the message, but we also want to move forward.”
“It’s about understanding that we have all experienced something,” said Mohammed. “Everyone needs to band together to express that.”
“Discrimination on campus is something no one really wants to talk about,” said a student who attended the rally, who asked not to be identified. “It is definitely something that happens, and something I have experienced on campus. I’m glad that this rally happened—hopefully it’ll spawn some desperately needed conversations about campus attitudes towards race, gender, sexuality, etc.”
“I think I should step back and listen.,” said Garcia. “I’m waiting to hear more from the Carleton community. I want this discussion to continue. If each one of us brings one friend who doesn’t normally discuss discrimination to an event on campus sponsored by this new active and positive group, I think we’ll be ‘paying it forward’ in a big way.”
For more information, or to become involved with DARK Nation, contact Jordan Butler ’13.
Cultural Programming Board:
Official Statement in response to student rally
To Carleton Students, Faculty, and Staff:
As representatives of Carleton’s cultural student organizations and their members, the Cultural Programming Board (CPB) would like to reaffirm our commitment to creating a campus free of discrimination.
Recent events have thrown our campus into a moment of serious reflection. Subtle, explicit, intended, and unintended means of oppression on our campus are very much alive. Cultural organizations have been aware of this climate, and work to combat it by building community and offering educational programming. Still, our efforts can only do so much.
CPB and its allies ask that you join us in recognizing the ongoing struggle to earn a welcoming campus for all. We, the Carleton community, are responsible for this struggle for the well being of our home, our workplace, and the development of future leaders.
The Cultural Programming Board