Hampshire College president initiates “race week” dialogue

Graphic by Hannah Roach '17

Graphic by Hannah Roach '17

BY NICOLE VILLACRES '18

Reflections and discussions about racism which started at Hampshire College last semester are continuing as their president, Jonathan Lash, declared the week of Oct. 24 a time to focus on their mission to counteract racism and to support communities of color.

“Week after week, the news brings us images of the mistreatment of people of color, and in particular black men, at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve all communities. This is a moment to support communities — and those in our own community — affected by this violence,” said Lash, in a statement released to the campus.

The nation is in what Lash called a “continuing crisis of violence and injustice” in regards to the mounting violence in Tulsa, Charlotte, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Ferguson, among other cities. Prosecutors in Tulsa have charged a white police officer with the first-degree manslaughter of Terence Crutcher. Footage of the shooting showed Crutcher walking away from the officer with his hands in the air. In Charlotte, police released footage of officers shooting Keith Lamont Scott, another black man. These events follow four years after the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.

“As we reflect on these issues, we know we have much work to do here in our community. I believe that together we can make the work of opposing the racism and injustice that we see in our society — and on our own campus — a central challenge for our campus. I know, too, that to meet that challenge we must listen, learn and seek changes,” wrote Lash.

School officials attempted to address issues of racism at Hampshire last April, when classes were canceled for two days. Classes were first canceled on a Tuesday for a student-led meeting, so students could voice their concerns and then subsequently canceled for Wednesday, while concerns were addressed. Students called for the college to fully divest from fossil fuels and the prison industrial complex, in addition to mandatory anti-racist training for the community.

“The commitment to justice has been an element of who we are since Hampshire was founded. It has always been and always will be a challenge to live up to: a reason for hard discussions, an impetus for protest, and sometimes a source of conflict. Hard discussions, protest, and conflict are not failings but necessary parts of a community that aspires to speak truth and move toward justice,” said Lash.

The 19th Annual Eqbal Ahmad Symposium will feature, on October 25, Naomi Murakawa, an African American Studies professor at Princeton University and author of The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, and Khalil G. Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America, presenting “Life in a Penal Democracy: Race, Policing, and the Limits of Liberal Reform.” In the second part of the symposium, on October 26, Cara Page, a Hampshire graduate who works with the Audre Lorde Project, an organization that works with LGBTQ youths of color in New York City, and Charlene Carruthers, from the Black Youth Project 100 in Chicago, will present “Resisting Racial Violence: Making Our Communities Safe.” 

The Hampshire website states, “We have asked the panelists to address the kinds of activism that have surged in response to the constant confrontation with police violence and the racialized system of injustice, how the communities they work with are experiencing and responding to this moment, and how they view its significance.”

Mount Holyoke is also bringing various speakers to campus, in order to “provide space for dialogues around current national issues related to mental health, identity, the presidential election, race and racism,” said Dean Marcella Runell Hall in an all-campus email.

The Division of Student Life is in the process of developing resources and programs to address the current racial trauma our community is facing. The Counseling Center has created a website of available resources called, Racial and Cultural Trauma: Self and Community Care Resources. The site includes signs of racial trauma, tips for those who experience it and links to additional resources.

“Closed healing circles led by members of the affected community (for example QTPOC people for Orlando) would be greatly beneficial for our community because they give us a space to mourn, grieve, and heal in community,” said Isa Zuluaga ‘19. “Having our truths affirmed is incredibly important.” 

Abby Baker ’19 contributed to this report

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