Defining Davidson: Voices from the Margins

This piece was inspired by Jonathan Shepard-Smith’s personal essay published in The Davidsonian on September 26th entitled “What does it mean to be Black at Davidson?” Valerie Arias ’19, Maeve Arthur ’22, Josh Lodish ’22, and Ricky Pinnock ’22 offer four additional perspectives as students who identify as minorities.

Because of our country’s deeply rooted history of oppression of people of color, predominantly white institutions need to make clear efforts to include the diverse people they are bringing to their campuses; people of different religious backgrounds should not be neglected either. Some of the writers illustrate a “hyper awareness” of his/her own skin color, which may be an uncontrollable factor, however, I think that the Davidson community could be doing more to ease this sense of discomfort.

I am left with these questions: Does the college actively try to retain and acclimate their minority students, or does it just bring them here and leave them on their own? Do we—students, faculty, and staff alike—do our best to understand other people’s experiences? How does the current rocky state of civil discourse in our country contribute to a misunderstanding of or an unwillingness to understand people’s identities when they differ from our own?

I hope that this piece makes members of our community think about how they can be more inclusive—open to listening to voices that are easily unheard. Similar to what Arias proposes in her piece, I encourage people to ask questions and be inquisitive because none of us have all the answers.

-Lizzie Kane ‘22

Josh Lodish ‘22

As a Jew, it is impossible to avoid learning about the history of Anti-Semitism. It has always been something I knew existed, but have never experienced. After the murder of eleven Jews in Pittsburgh, that changed. I began to recognize and feel its effects. I began to acknowledge that it easily could have been my synagogue or that of a friend. Thankfully, I was comforted by the powerful vigil here at Davidson, and felt secure in the fact that I was at a college where Anti-Semitism was not present.

But the following day, I walked into my classroom to see the words, “Hitler did nothing wrong,” written on the board. I was crushed. It was as if all the positive emotions from the support of the vigil escaped me and were usurped by confusion, anger, and frustration. This week many Jewish students, myself included, have been unable to focus on school. We are in shock: first from Pittsburgh and now from this.

In conversation with many members of the community, I noticed a common response to the words on the whiteboard: that it was likely a joke, done by an immature and unaware person. I really want to push back against that idea. Ask yourself why many members of our community are quick to discount purely malicious intent from this hateful speech. Perhaps it is the fact that we have a hard time recognizing our deep and entrenched biases that we carry with us to this school. We have a hard time accepting that here, at a school like Davidson, that a member of our community could write such hateful words. We all share in the responsibility for the words written on the whiteboard, and in the community’s response to those words.

What I have taken from this experience, as a Jew here at Davidson, is that although we may say we want to change our biases, we actually do not. The correct course of action is not to write off the clear demonstration of anti-semitism at Davidson as a joke, but instead to analyze the biases at work in our community, and the refusal of many to recognize and attempt to change these biases; we should do the work of discussing and understanding the effects of current and historic oppression and privilege deeply entrenched in our Davidson community.

Maeve Arthur ‘22

Coming from Maine, I’ve always been keenly aware of my race. As one of only a handful of kids of color in my high school and in my town, I never felt fully included. It was frustrating to so often feel like an outsider in the place I lived all my life, but that is what life is like in small-town Maine. When I came to Davidson, I hoped that a lot of this frustration would dissipate. I knew that I was coming to a predominantly white institution, but, because of all of the rhetoric the college uses about diversity, I thought that it would be an improvement compared to where I was coming from, if not in the statistics then at least in how people deal with race. In a lot of ways, I’ve found that these expectations have been met. But the more I understand life here at Davidson, the more frustrated I become with it. To a large extent, I see more problems than I did in Maine.

Over the past few months here, I’ve noticed in classroom settings that, while many of the conversations about race are genuine and intelligent, they also often appear rehearsed; it is like a select number of correct answers are ingrained into students’ minds. These conversations, while important for our education and growth, generally happen within our comfort zone: the classroom. My frustration is that we assume that the academic conversations that take place in this space are enough, and so we do not participate in outside acts that are just as important for our education on racial issues. While I appreciate the deep intellectual commitment Davidson students have to antiracism, it is a whole other thing to put yourself in non-academic situations that might take you out of your comfort zone, such as going to POC–sponsored events, engaging in conversations about how to increase and embrace diversity, and inviting people of color to share their stories, all while listening with an open mind. Though these situations might bring out feelings of sorrow, anger, guilt and more, they are necessary, because better understanding has to be shaped in part by discomfort. At Davidson, people of color are thrown into settings where they might feel uncomfortable every day, even in the classroom or the library, because we are the minority. It requires a great deal of bravery just to exist in these settings, and bravery like this has to be exercised by everyone, not just people of color. It is daunting to take this step, but intellectualizing can only take us so far. We all have to take the knowledge that we have gained in the classroom and challenge ourselves to apply it to outside settings if we truly want to change the ways we think about race.

Valerie Arias ‘19

In my experience, Latinidad manifests itself through a hierarchy. It is defined by your place of birth, ability to speak Spanish, and the extent to which you “look” Latinx. The stereotypical Latina in the United States is expected to have brown eyes and brown hair with bronzed skin, be short and curvy, passionate and loud, and naturally sexy. But I prefer the definition from a sticker on my laptop: “Latina: (n) not someone that is inherently sexy or ‘spicy’ or ‘fiery,’ not a chica you should fetishize.” In this time of posters, banners, stickers, and social media posts, perhaps distributing this sticker across campus and the nation would help Americans with deconstructing their stereotypical image of Latinas.

Although the “Davidson Bubble” is predominantly liberal and inclusive, it does not function as a safe haven from the stereotyping of Latinas and the whitewashing of Latinidad. Surprise! I don’t eat spicy food. Contrary to popular opinion, a spicy cuisine is not ubiquitous across Latin America. Additionally, Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie” and the Justin Bieber remix of “Despacito” represent the whitewashing of Latin American music at the convenience of a predominantly English-speaking audience. Although fluency in Spanish is not a requirement for identifying as Latinx, in my personal experience, I have been attacked for speaking Spanish with the justification that “this is America.” If only “America” could be perceived as a land of immigrants, both past and present, valued for their distinct heritages.

I challenge you to contact your peers who identify as Latinx, as well as other students of color, and listen to their experiences both on and off campus. I hope that such active engagement will dismantle stereotypes of Latinas and Latinidad. Perhaps only then will Colombian students at Davidson College no longer experience my reality of being called a “cocaine cartel” on the first day of class. 

Ricardo Pinnock ‘22

“We love recolonizing spaces at Davidson!” a friend of color said to me and a small group of POC while we were all sitting in Summit Outpost (Nummit) many weeks ago. Her comment made me pay attention to how “white” Nummit was at that very moment. Her comment made me realized that I’ve become used to being surrounded by whiteness to the point where I don’t ever question the lack of racial diversity in any space I enter. What should I expect though? I chose to go to a predominantly white institution. Arriving at Davidson, I should have reasonably concluded that most spaces in a predominantly white institution will be predominantly, or even entirely, white. After eighteen years of living, I’ve come to think of myself as more than just my blackness; I am a whole intersectional person with many interests, and being black is just one aspect of myself.

In my two months here, however, I have been reminded of my blackness at the most inopportune times, whether it be at F, at a hall meeting, when all the POC sit in the back of my Religious Studies class, or even when I think about the possibility of a crush liking me back. For long stretches of time, I am not as conscious of my blackness—being black is not front and center in my mind—so instances that force me to recognize my blackness tear me down. I’ll enter a predominantly white space and then remember that I am the only Black person in the room or one of a few. I remember that I am outnumbered and easily singled out. I feel like I am under a microscope and that all my actions will be scrutinized, though that obviously not the case. Feelings of increased responsibility and anxiety characterize every harsh reminder of my blackness. These “harsh” reminders are not innocent and aren’t easily brushed off. Over and over again I am put in the position to think about the fact that America’s past and present is tied to anti-blackness. It feels like I have these harsh reminders because I am black, and since I can never escape being black, nor do I want to, I’ll never be free of the problem.

Some of my Black friends and I will sometimes jokingly fantasize about what it would be like to go to some of the well known HBCU’s like Howard, Spelman or Morehouse, and at the end of the day, I know those sentiments, for me at least, will stay as a joke. The idea behind the joke is that we would feel less like outcasts at an HBCU, but the dynamic that I’ve discussed in this piece doesn’t detract from my love for Davidson. The choice of attending a predominantly white institution as opposed to a historically black college or university means I will constantly be reminded of my blackness because microaggressions on the basis of race will inevitably happen more frequently.

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