Students speak out with “Mount Holyoke Doesn’t Teach Me” photo project

Mara Kleinberg ’22 holds a sign reading “Mount Holyoke doesn’t teach me any other music for vespers besides Christmas carols which violate my faith.”

Hunar Anand ’21 holds a sign reading “Mount Holyoke doesn’t teach me about my religion — Sikhism.”

Lynn Shen ’19 holds a sign reading “Mount Holyoke doesn’t teach me non-Euro-American centric environmental issues/actions/histories.”

Sophie Vincent ’22 holds a sign reading “Mount Holyoke doesn’t teach me the histories of acts of violence committed against ethnic minorities outside the U.S.A.”

BY GABRIELLE SHANG ’22

Representatives from six student organizations organized a photo campaign at Blanchard Community Center called “Mount Holyoke Doesn’t Teach Me” on Nov. 1. The goal of the campaign was to promote the representation of people of color — and many other marginalized identities — in liberal arts education. Students were provided a dry-erase board and a marker to respond to the prompt “Mount Holyoke Doesn’t Teach Me.” Initiated by Kuch Karo: Pakistani Students for Change, the photo campaign was the collective effort of a series of identity-based student organizations including Kuch Karo, STEMPOC, ISU, Muslim Students Association (MSA), Students of Hinduism Reaching Inwards (SHRI Familia) and Asian American Students in Action (AASIA).

The campaign was derived from the observations of the co-chairs of Kuch Karo during their time at Mount Holyoke. Co-chair Tehreem Waqas Mela ’19, an art studio and politics double major, mentioned that only a small proportion of articles written by non-western authors and scholars were used as readings in humanities courses. She found that many scholars in American institutions rely on stereotypes about foreign countries despite never having been to these countries. Another co-chair, Wafa Zahid Malik ’19, a biochemistry major, saw similar patterns in STEM fields at Mount Holyoke. Malik noticed that the contributions of people of color to scientific research, especially the contributions of Muslims, were barely mentioned.

The campaign was inspired by a protest earlier this year at Amherst College called “Amherst Doesn’t Teach Me.” In April 2018, the Amherst Asian American Studies Working Group initiated a photo campaign to advocate for more AsianAmerican courses in the college’s curriculum. The event gained momentum among students and faculty and claims some success: Amherst hired an Asian-American faculty member for the Fall 2018 semester.

While the protest at Amherst focused more on Asian-American representation, the campaign at Mount Holyoke sought to encompass all kinds of identities that feel underrepresented on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.

Students at Mount Holyoke actively participated in the campaign throughout the day. Their responses revealed various problems with a lack of course and degree offerings about people of color, lack of non-American-centric academic materials, lack of teaching in trans health, segregation in housing and athletics and lack of diversity in faculty and staff. Alicia Kwok ’21, an English major, wrote “Mount Holyoke doesn’t teach me that the history and literature of colored people are essential to my education.” She added, “the current English major requirement is highly focused on Euro-American narratives. Multi-ethnic literature courses are not part of the degree’s requirement and therefore are easily decentered.” Kwok found the campaign very inspiring. “It is interesting to see how students from areas that I know nothing about, like STEM and athletics, shared similar observations with me,” Kwok said.

After the campaign, photos of participants with their responses were posted on Facebook. By Nov. 10, the post had been shared 149 times. Many alumnae reached out to Kuch Karo and showed their interest in the campaign. “They said they felt like we said something they had always wanted to say,” said Malik.

Students are now expecting a response from the Mount Holyoke faculty and administration. To make their statement more directly to the faculty, organizers plan to blur the faces in the photos in order to make them anonymous and posts the photos in Blanchard Hall and academic buildings. They also envision participation of faculty and Five College students. Malik thinks that “the campaign is not just for people of color, but also for everyone who realizes the significance of this topic.”

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