Why is social justice optional at Mount Holyoke?

BY TEAGEN WEBB '18 

On Monday at the BOOM conference, I had a lot of productive interactions with acquaintances, staff and faculty. I have spent the last three years of my time here studying critical gender and race theory, dedicating time to radical anti-capitalist action. This means that I recognized a lot of the people there. From what I saw, many of my friends, classmates, humanities majors and participants in the activist orgs on campus participated in the conference. This isn't the worst thing that could happen, as it shows that the people who care continue to show up for their peers and will support this event as an annual tradition. 

I think that the BOOM conference created a dialogue between students, faculty members and especially staff members that was truly valuable. Improving this campus means investing in all parts of our community, especially those which may be invisible to us, namely the dining, groundskeeping, housekeeping and facilities staffs that deserve trainings, recognition and community inclusion. 

But this piece is not about the students who came, rather, it's about the students who didn't. What about Mount Holyoke's approach to education allows some to graduate without grappling with injustice, especially in their own backyard? Although I'm sure you will hear valid critiques of these students, I wish instead to understand the fundamental failures of course requirements and Mount Holyoke's ideology. 

As a school full of "changemakers" who advertise our progressive multicultural community, a singular multicultural requirement is insufficient. Although some may argue that it would be just as ridiculous to ask all the gender studies majors to take several STEM courses, I believe that argument misses the point. Being educated on issues of race oppression should not be an option that you can opt into if you're feeling like going the extra mile. I advocate for choosing your passion, but doing so consciously. If you truly believe that you can become an excellent doctor without training in culture, religion, race, disability, gender or class, then Mount Holyoke is not doing its job.  

Hard science is written in the language of the oppressors. It is a language with the potential for incredible discovery but has allowed countless atrocities to occur. It is historically capitalist, racist, ableist and sexist. Mount Holyoke is cowardly to promote that simply adding women or non-binary people to the STEM field without a fundamental change in their understanding of oppression is truly progressive. It's ironic to use this same second-wave feminist thought to promote gender equality in the workforce while slashing the gender studies department. There is a group of students who genuinely "just came here to get a job,"  a feeling I can easily understand. But what about Mount Holyoke's programming is allowing them to think that an education or career without consistent and critical social thought is even an option for a liberal arts education? It's not fair to minority students, who were promised a helping hand from our community, and are currently receiving a limp fish handshake and a photo-op on admission handouts. 

For a progressive institution that gloats about diversity of all sorts, education on these topics should be mandatory. But until then, everyone should take more critical social or political thought courses. I promise they will make you a better scientist and a more thoughtful engineer and allow you to grow as a citizen, friend and person. Frankly, if you think learning about racism is a waste of time, then I am sorry that Mount Holyoke has failed you.

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