Usdan Display Tells Stories, Responds to HOLI Flyer
On Friday, May 4, a new display called “Untold Stories & Comments about Race at Wesleyan” was installed in Usdan University Center. The installation features signs with various reactions to a flyer posted during the HOLI festival, personal stories of dealing with racism, and comments on institutional oppression present at the University.
The idea for the display stemmed from a discussion that was held on April 30, during which students discussed their reactions to the flyer. Students compiled different stories on a shared Google Document, which were then printed and hung up around Usdan. Students hoped to increase campus awareness of incidents of institutionalized and internalized racism through sharing personal stories.
“A lot of people are really unaware of the things that happen at Wesleyan and think that [racist incidents] don’t happen at Wesleyan,” Chantaneice Kitt ’13 said.
Usdan was chosen to house the display because of its central location, and because it is a hub for student activities.
“We’ve experienced things at Usdan, such as the Anti-Affirmative Action bake sale and the Holi sign,” Luz Rivera ’13 said. “[So it made sense to use] the space that has been used in a way that has hurt our community, and a space that has somehow fallen outside of the student-of-color community.”
Students hoped that showcasing stories in Usdan would be the most effective way to reach a large number of people. Rivera and Kitt stressed the impact the Holi flyer had on the entire campus community, as opposed to just students of color.
“Another misconception is that the student-of-color community was the only community affected by this,” Kitt said. “At the forum that we had, there were people from all different backgrounds, all different types of groups. Everyone is concerned about the atmosphere and racial anxiety that is present at Wesleyan.”
Students hope that the display will encourage others to approach discussions about racism from different outlooks. By sharing personal stories, the display offers students the opportunity to experience reactions or feelings that differ from their own.
“I hope that it sparks conversation [and gets] people thinking in a different way,” said University Organizing Center (UOC) Intern Isabelle Gauthier ’14. “I think that people come [at] things from very different perspectives, and a lot of it is about listening to those different perspectives.”
In addition to gaining new insights, organizers hope that students will begin to have more constructive discourse surrounding issues of racism on campus.
“One of my goals would be to have more dialogue among the communities here at Wesleyan and to have our president endorse those types of dialogue and support conversations about race, class, gender, and sexuality,” Rivera said.
Rivera and Kitt emphasized the importance of gaining support from the administration in combating issues of racism on campus.
“In order to fight institutionalized racism, we need to institutionalize ways to combat it,” Kitt said. “I think that we have an issue with the administration [failing to back] these conversations, we have to have something that everyone will have to participate in.”
Gauthier hopes that one way the University can support campus discourse is through the UOC. The UOC could provide students with a space to report incidents of racism, while also giving them access to various student groups and resources to combat oppression on campus.
“It would be really awesome if there was a Campus Climate Log that worked better,” Gauthier said. “We’re really hoping to make that a resource that the UOC could be used as a way to report things that happened on campus or in a classroom.”
Students hope that the “Untold Stories” display marks the beginning of increased discussions surrounding race at the University. In the future, they hope to have more forums or methods for students to communicate their concerns.
“We want to make sure we stay with this momentum and that conversations are happening, whether those are negative or positive,” Kitt said. “I guess the end goal would be that we would have things that would occur throughout the year that wouldn’t just happen as reactions [to racist incidents], but that would be more proactive.”