In Wake of Trump Presidency, a Call to Action

Senior class presidents Lesedi Ntsele and Sadie Zavgren at the ceremony Thursday. Photo credit: Amanda Lau

Senior class presidents Lesedi Ntsele and Sadie Zavgren at the ceremony Thursday. Photo credit: Amanda Lau

The South Lawn filled Thursday before a newly hung Black Lives Matter banner on the Performing Arts Center. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency, students coalesced in a call to action against the forces of marginalization and hatred that made his rise to power possible. 

At Thursday’s ceremony to raise the banner, members of the student body and the Sarah Lawrence community at large stood atop the short stone wall in front of the PAC and, overlooking the crowd of their peers, spoke on activism and resistance. Especially in the wake of recent bias related incidents on campus, their words were poignant reminders of the danger and violence inherent in Trump’s ideology.

But going beyond the implications of the presidential election, several speakers noted that for many students of color on campus, fears that came out of this week’s events are nothing new. They urged the community—particularly white students—to take the concerns of students of color seriously, and recognize that racism is far from confined to parts of the country where Trump received most of his support.

“I hear your anger over the success of President-Elect Donald Trump, I feel your pain and your fear,” said senior class president Lesedi Ntsele (’17), who organized the raising of the banner with fellow class president Sadie Zavgren (’17). Ntsele continued, “We are all afraid and we are all in pain, and I don’t want to take away from that, but I do want to say that it’s not enough to be angry about Trump and the hatred perpetuated across the country when the same people have been targeted on our campus.”

As Ntsele and Zavgren said in an email to the student body earlier this week, the banner is meant to “stand as a reminder to our commitment to the students of color on this campus and around the country [and] stand as our response to those who committed the acts of bias and to those who stood silent while members of our Sarah Lawrence community were targeted.” 

The college’s Committee on Diversity met after the ceremony Thursday, according to an email sent to the community Friday afternoon, where concerns were brought up on how the election will impact students of color, LGBTQIA students, undocumented students, and Muslim students, as well as issues such as reproductive rights and socioeconomic security. 

“We must commit to continuing the dialogue about these most serious concerns and finding ways that we can positively impact the future of this campus and our nation,” the committee wrote.

The banner, on which the words “Black Lives Matter” are written over the colors of the Pan-African Flag, will stay up until the end of the fall semester.

Ricky Martorelli ’19

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Discussion Attempts to Tackle Lack of Diversity in the Theatre Department

The Sarah Lawrence Performing Arts Center.   Photo credit: Joseph McFarland

The Sarah Lawrence Performing Arts Center. Photo credit: Joseph McFarland

‘Noon Day Sun’ by Cassandra Medley is a play about a woman named ‘Wendy,’ whose secret birth name is ‘Zena.’ Wendy is a black-identified woman who is passing as a white woman. A casting controversy began when the person chosen to play as Wendy for the SLC production was white. There was talk of audience walkouts, recasting, and even a rewrite of the story.

Some point out how there’s an overall lack of diversity in the SLC theater program, so it’s not the fault of the casting but simply a lack of available choices. Others point out how this doesn’t have to be an issue of authenticity, considering the character is supposed to be someone who passes as white. Others draw attention to the issue being a persistent reoccurring problem, pointing out the minstrel shows or lack of representation for people of color in theater. One thing that is mostly agreed upon is that this isn’t a simple ‘quick fix’ problem.

“We can’t just look at diversity as ‘oh we don’t have enough people of color.’ That’s not diversity. Diversity is body types, skin colors, abilities, backgrounds, nationalities, languages, and you know it extends far beyond just that, so I think that we have to work on our vocabulary and the way that we’re holding this discourse surrounding diversity,” says Julius Powell (‘18).

The SLC Theatre Program discussion regarding diversity on March 8th lasted for about 90 minutes. Undergrad Students, SLC graduates, faculty, and others joined in on the conversation. 

“The issue seems to be more about how to have [diversity] conversations. How do you deal with race and ethnicity and other aspects of the self in art,” Linwood J. Lewis, an SLC psychology professor, said during the discussion.

Irving Vincent, who mostly led the discussion with Cassandra Medley, drew upon his own experience as being a person of color who grew up in a time when black people struggled for any form of representation. He also spoke about how the idea of art in itself was about stepping outside your box, noting how Meryl Streep was able to take on a variety of roles: “Tell me one artist who didn’t break the rules?” 

The discussion went back and forth from a philosophical look at performance and playwriting to an agreeable plan for future casting. The discussion became less about finding solutions, and more about how to have conversations in the future that will lead to solutions.

“When we leave this campus, we don’t want this conversation to keep happening. We don’t want this to keep being a thing. [...] I just want to get to the conversation that moves this forward,” said Nja Batiste (‘18) at the discussion. 

The philosophical debate was on the issue of colorblind casting vs color-conscious casting, and the benefits or issues with each casting method. The general consensus of the discussion was to put forth a mission statement on the department as a whole. 

“I think we also have to craft a mission statement and in our mission we would be looking for plays that offer complex roles for actors of color and women. [...] You don’t want to create a pressure for certain people to audition for things because that’s not fair but you also don’t want to miss an opportunity for a great show,” said Laura Hawes (‘18).

Common Ground discussions put forth the idea of having a diversity committee specifically for the theater department. There is currently an SLC diversity committee which does not focus on what goes on in SLC theater.

“The diversity committee is very different than what’s happening in theater. [...] It would be hard to have a diversity committee for the theater, outside the theater,” said Al Green, Dean of Equity and Inclusion.

Marisol, a play that SLC performed recently, seemed to be appreciated by those looking for more diversity in these plays.

“It follows a narrative that has nothing to do with race. It had, statistically, the highest natural diversity percentage of any of the shows we’ve had this semester. It had the highest percentage of people of color. The lead actress was a woman of color. I think Marisol is what we should be aiming to achieve in our department,” said Powell.

While there is no quick fix to the issue surrounding diversity, the agreeable plan for the near future is to develop a mission statement and diversity committee for the theater department.

Joseph McFarland '16

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

After #BLACKOUTSLC, Social Justice Co-Op Housing Created For 2016-2017 School Year

A flier for the new housing program.   Photo courtesy of Carolyn Martinez-Class

A flier for the new housing program. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Martinez-Class

Last semester students were called to walk from their commitments and meet on the South Lawn to listen to students of color discuss their experiences with race on campus. The students also read a list of demands from the student body that could help ease racial issues on campus.

This Blackout SLC event, sparked by the events at Mizzou last November, was part of a nationwide movement amongst schools across the country to look inwardly at the racial issues on their own campuses.

Members of the SLC administration attended the event, and are now working with the students to meet the demands stated. There were a total of 11 demands. Some of these demands include that the College create a strategic 5-year plan that will increase retention rates for people of color, and that the college establishes a new housing arrangement which would be designed specifically to act as a source of healing for students of color on campus.

A housing program based off of this demand was established and is called the Social Justice Co-Op, or social justice themed cooperative housing. It’s part a 2-year pilot program that establishes a residential community with a particular topic, interest, and so on. Students involved in this specific co-op housing must agree to fully participate in this learning environment. Some requirements include participation with the surrounding campus community throughout the semester such as writing newspaper articles, presenting lectures, and so on. The housing locations selected are Andrews Court 6 and 7.

Once applicants are selected by a panel consisting of students, faculty, and/or staff, a lottery mirroring the process of the general housing lottery will take place. Two to four spaces will be reserved for first year applicants. Each Co-Op will have 1-2 student coordinators who develop an outreach and management plan. 

On this new housing program, Wendy Eklund, Assistant Director of Residence Life, said, “I think it’s phenomenal. Having communities on campus where students can come together for a particular purpose really helps strengthen the bond between students on campus and it also helps with our retention. One of the things that we’ve found is when students have a space that they really connect with they’re happier, they’re more connected with the college and they stay here, so we’re looking to incorporate that a lot more into housing and this is one of the ways we’re hoping to do so.”

Applications are due on February 26th to Student Affairs and interviews will be conducted from February 29th to March 8th. More information regarding the Co-Op housing can be found on MySLC.

Joseph McFarland '16

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

#BLACKOUTSLC Brings Racism Faced By Students of Color to the Forefront of Campus Dialogue

Black students speak to the crowd about the racism they’ve experienced during their time at SLC.   Photo credit: Carolyn Martinez-Class ‘17

Black students speak to the crowd about the racism they’ve experienced during their time at SLC. Photo credit: Carolyn Martinez-Class ‘17

Despite the anonymous negative comments on Yik Yak before and after the event, approximately 400 members of the Sarah Lawrence community attended the #BLACKOUTSLC event earlier this semester.

Many students expressed distinct surprise regarding the event’s turnout—“There turned out to be a lot more people than I expected, but there should have been more people. Students, staff, and faculty on the Sarah Lawrence campus are very good at showing what they care about, and they have showed students of color exactly how they feel about issues of racial equality,” explained Imani West ’16.

“I was glad to see so many people come and show support. It did mean a lot considering we, black students, only make up 4 percent of the student body...They need to understand that being a minority is hard. You have to accept respect our blackness because we, as minorities, have no choice but accept your whiteness,” said Monet A. Thibou ’17.

Students were called to walk out from all on-campus obligations and meet on the South Lawn on Monday November 16 at 3:30 PM. During the event, students of color spoke about their experiences regarding race on campus. 

Najah Aissata ’17 said in her speech to the gathering: “Today, we are here in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Missouri. Black students around the country are at a time of reckoning and it is time people start to listening. This year has been a challenging one with each day bringing a new hashtag, with each day bringing a new black body plastered all over the internet and news, with each day passing we lose another one of our own.”

The statements made by the students of color mainly addressed specific microagressions and racial injustices they faced on a regular basis. “It is extremely clear that people of color don’t feel safe on this campus and that we need change. Microaggressions and acts of hate happen in quiet corners of the school and foster places of darkness where no one can move forward from. I hope this protest illuminates that darkness, and at the very least allows people to understand that they can help make sure that this institution is open and comfortable for all,” said Andre Snow ’16.

Those who criticized idea of #BLACKOUTSLC—most of whom were able to hide behind anonymity while doing so—claimed it was ridiculous to have students miss class for something they didn’t believe was a real issue on campus. Trivializing the issue, some even went as far as to make jokes claiming that the speakers never felt “true oppression.”

“I have read some quite disturbing reactions on social media,” said Ayanna Harrison ’17. “Students have taken to Yik Yak to voice their opinions. While I agree one has a right to freedom of speech, it really gives me pause when I read Why do black people deserve more things than anybody else? or Yeah black people deserve so much more than everyone else. Black people need entitlements because they can’t make it on their own merit.

Additionally, Ayanna voiced concerns for effective measures of progress: “While we recognize the school’s efforts, making committees is not enough...Committees don’t protect us from having racial slurs being written on doors. Committees don’t protect us from our safe spaces being demonized and ostracized by our peers.” 

#BLACKOUTS is not an SLC exclusive movement but rather a national effort to center on the issues of black students, faculty, and staff around the US. The events at Mizzou ignited schools across the country to look inwardly at racial issues their own students face. Students nationwide have participated in both sit-ins and marches to bring attention to these problems.

“I know some professors made it mandatory to attend the event. What happened was largely what I had expected to happen: students rallying to acknowledge flaws in our system but what was surprising was seeing Karen Lawrence actually there...I felt that the students that went up and spoke said things about this school’s atmosphere [that] had been on my mind for years but put in a more eloquent way,” said Malcolm L. Knowles ’16.

The meeting at SLC began with a list of demands that were read in front of those who attended. President Karen Lawrence was in the crowd, and stayed for the length of the event. 

In a video interview that student Jack Califano ‘16 conducted and posted directly after the event, he asked President Lawrence about her viewpoints on the various issues brought up.

“I don’t think we’re complacent about […]having a progressive institutional past, I think we should be proud of that, but it isn’t enough,” she said. “I think there are things that go on on every campus including Sarah Lawrence, and clearly there is a lot of pain associated with that.”     So far, there are a total of eleven demands—the complete list can be found on the Facebook event page #BLACKOUTSLC.

Arguably, the most notable demand is that the College create a million-dollar need-based scholarship fund for the recruitment of students of color to campus. Some of the other demands included that the college create a 5-year plan that will increase retention rates for people of color, and also that the college require all students to partake in an anti-racism course for a number of credits.

Student-led activism when it comes to issues of on campus are not new. Present are similarities to the ‘89 Westlands sit-in, during which multiple racialized incidents on campus led to a four day sit-in by students. The demands at the time led the administration to help develop Common Ground, broaden courses to include aspects of Black, Hispanic and Asian history and culture, and hire eight additional black professors and a black admissions officer.

Since #BLACKOUTSLC, Dean Green, Dean Trujillo, and President Lawrence have met with representatives of Blackout SLC regarding demands made. Senior staff and groups such as the General, Admissions and the Diversity committees have been working to address the demands as well. 

Admissions has proposed two initiatives to bring more students of color on campus. One is a web presence designed to enroll more students of color to campus. The second involves working to engage alumni of color in the recruitment of prospective students of color. Members of the General and Diversity Committees will work together to plan for cross-campus dialogue on racial issues. 

Regarding the scholarship fund, the President has stated that while the college has an existing scholarship fund of over a million dollars dedicated to students of color, she said student scholarships were their highest fundraising priority and they will continue to gather additional funds for students of color.

Students who attended #BLACKOUTSLC applauded many of the statements made by the students of color. “I’ll never understand what it is like to be a student of color at this school, which is why it is essential that people with privilege like myself listen to and uplift the voices of marginalized people. Today was wonderful but this is a protracted struggle, and it will take real effort by the entire campus-not just students of color-to make this school an honestly safe space,” said Scarlett Ferman ’17.

“I know this walkout got some attention, but I’m really looking forward to taking part in a upcoming action that would hopefully be intense and large enough to force the administration to act. I can’t imagine how exhausting it is for POC to keep having to explain their struggles to white people, over and over again, and to no avail,” added Hank Broege, an SLC grad student.

Julius Powell left the crowd with an inspiring message: “Hug your black brother or sister today. Remind them of their worth in this world that frequently forgets them. That remembers them only when they are criminalized. Remind them that they are talented, intelligent, capable and strong. Just as capable as the person sitting next to them in the classroom. Just as capable as the white body that stands next to them on stage. Remind them that they matter in your academic environments. Encourage them...equally.”

Joseph McFarland '16

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

SLC Students Attend Black Solidarity Conference at Yale

SLC Students pose during a special dinner held for attendees of the Black Solidarity Conference at Yale  Photo by Lindsey Guion ‘17 

SLC Students pose during a special dinner held for attendees of the Black Solidarity Conference at Yale
Photo by Lindsey Guion ‘17 

On the weekend of Sat., Feb. 21, students from all over the country converged in New Haven, Conn. to attend the 20th Annual Black Solidarity Conference at Yale University. Sarah Lawrence students were also in attendance, in a group organized by Najah Diop (’17), Ayanna Harrison (’170, and faculty advisor Natalie Gross from the Office of Diversity and Campus Engagement. 14 SLC students convened at Westlands Gate on the morning of Feb. 19 to start their journey off to Connecticut. 

The conference lasted two days. The first day started off strong with a commencement speech in the morning. The song “On and On” by Erykah Badu filled the air in Sheffield Hall as students were welcomed in by alumni speaker Al Lucas. He told stories about what it was like being at Yale in the late 80’s protesting apartheid. “Me and the brothers set up huts outside of the presidents house and lived in them. We wanted to show people what kind of living conditions blacks were forced into during apartheid.”

Suddenly, he asked all conference attendees move into different groups based off of their birth year. Strangers squeezed into uncomfortable spaces together awkwardly. “This is how it was, when they took us from our home, put us on a boat and brought us here. We have to think about what solidarity really means!” He encouraged attendees to branch out and network with people, reminding them to find common ground and to stay “solid” in the cause they had all come together to support. He ended by reminding students, “We are unique in our blackness and one in our struggle!”

Following this speech was a panel discussion featuring Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. As a graduate of Yale and U.S. Representative of Texas’s 18th congressional district, she offered perspective pertaining to the recent climate of police shootings and race relations. She repeatedly stated that young people needed to start utilizing social media more to speak out about what they want. “We’re over there in Washington and Twitter is silent! We need to hear more from all of you so that we can approve changes! That’s how you make things happen.” One student, Delaysha Lockharte from Wells College, appreciated where Congresswoman Lee was coming from, saying, “She was clearly a part of the system, but fighting against it from within.” Following this panel there were two others. One panel led by Dr. David Riviera was geared to educate students about microaggressions within the context of mental health. Chris Rabb, the final panelist of the day, spoke about the ways that privilege plays into entrepreneurism and innovation.

On the second day of the conference, students started their mornings off with an intense discussion about the U.S. prison system. The panel featured four speakers: George Chochos, Barbara Fair, Hon. Sylvia Hinds-Radix, and Rakim Brooks. Chochos is an ex-convict who spent 11 years in prison while completing a master’s degree. Fair is an opponent of the war on drugs, calling it “Jim Crow by another name.” Radix oversees the New York State Supreme Court and New York City Civil Court. Brooks is an alumnus of Yale who served as a policy advisor for the U.S. Department of Treasury. 

Chochos gave reason as to why there may be so many conflicts between police and communities, saying, “Community policing should not be done by officers that have no connection to the communities they police.” Fair offered the opinion that “the criminal justice system is rigged to charge blacks with crime… many people plea bargain when they’re innocent because they don’t trust the justice system.” Brooks solidified these sentiments with his thought-provoking question: “I have to take an oath in this system… how do I take an oath in a system that I don’t believe in?” Judge Radix took a somewhat different stance, saying, “I believe we have one of the best legal systems in the world…we have potential and you have to educate yourselves to help change what is wrong.” Caleb Palmer from Howard University offered her opinion of Judge Radix’s statement saying, “The judge was clearly assimilated into the system, pushing back against people.” 

Every day at lunchtime, students were all split into what were called “Ujima groups,” where they shared and discussed race-related issues at their own schools. Delaysha Lockharte spoke about how, at Wells, they helped educate people and raise awareness about the recent police shootings. “At our school we showed students a compilation of news clips, the Colbert show and Jon Stewart in order to raise awareness of the protests and their purpose.” Carolyn Martinez-Class (’17) chimed in with criticism of how SLC has handled diversity issues in the past, stating, “The Dean of Multicultural Affairs left the school and then, they just made the only black guy in administration in charge of those affairs even though he has all of these other responsibilities, like being the Dean of Studies.”

Later that evening, the keynote reception was held at a nearby hotel. Students adorned in all black filled the venue and enjoyed a three-course meal. Former president of the NAACP Benjamin Jealous spoke about his early experiences with activism, trying to keep a historically black college from being turned into a prison. “We wanted to show that turning a college into a prison was not just anti-civil rights, but anti-American,” he said. At the end of his speech, Jealous challenged everyone find a cause to fight for in their lives.

Following the reception, Troi Valles (‘17) offered her opinion of the conference: “I see the conference as a way to empower and motivate black youth from across the country to be better activists, challenging us to be more radical. The facilitators encouraged us to network; they wanted us to succeed and take our black brothers and sisters with us.”

by Anthony Magana ‘17 
amagana@gm.slc.edu

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.