By Anika Banerjee ’24 (she/her), Staff Writer
Davidson commits itself to educating its students about issues that are prevalent both inside and outside of the classroom. However, as Jaelyn Taylor ‘22 said, “A college, at the end of the day, is an institution dedicated to pursuing the needs and interests of the institution. That means the stories get skewed.” So, what if a group of students tried to revamp that education, both on and off of the Davidson campus?
Imagining Davidson is a series of workshops and events that work to expand the community at Davidson so that students and faculty can access education and political engagement with issues that minority, affinity, and marginalized groups face.
Jaelyn Taylor, Sanzari Aranyak ’22, and Phoebe Son Oh ’22 came together to collaborate on a five-week education series that integrates first-year students, along with the rest of the community, into larger communities of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff at Davidson and in Charlotte. When asked to describe their mission statement, Aranyak said, “Our guiding vision for Imagining Davidson is to, first, build a community between upperclassmen and underclassmen, along with people of color and queer folks. Second, we wanted to connect Davidson students to the larger Charlotte and Mecklenburg County community to teach people radical theory so that we can ground ourselves and our work in theory and politics.”
These students found that when students of minority identities arrive at Davidson, they see two options for social circles: the STRIDE community, which condenses minorities into one group, and the white community, into which Davidson wants students to assimilate.
“Especially as a student of color, you come in the fall, and you are inundated with the whiteness of Davidson,” Aranyak said. They saw this as unfair and wanted to expand the options for incoming students.
Taylor and Aranyak understood that first year students would notice this divide that is intrinsic to the Davidson community, and they wanted to educate first years in the fall so that they could enter with the most expansive experience possible. Taylor, Aranyak, and Son Oh all found that Davidson typically offers an introduction into race and diversity issues in the spring, after students have built their social circles. They believe that exposing students to the topics covered in the series in the fall will allow them more time to become involved in their community.
Taylor emphasized the importance of “slow immersion into the community, as opposed to big dives, because there’s no one way to become ‘radical.’” She continued, “There’s no one way to ascribe to radical politics; it looks different for everyone, and I feel like the series kind of gets at the heart of it.”
While beginning this series in a virtual world has impacted its functionality, Taylor spoke of how the virtual aspect of the series was a hindrance at first, but now feels like an asset because students can join lectures and workshops from a comfortable distance. This allows participants to have a gradual introduction into the series since they can control their involvement.
“Coming to college and meeting people where they are or for who they are in the given moment becomes this sort of subconscious refusal to assimilate to whatever whiteness or status quo they are surrounded by,” Taylor said. “I feel like the program being virtual plays into that because folks coming can choose when they want to come and where they want to be met, and widen their horizons.”
Only one week of this series has passed, and there are four more opportunities to get involved. This Friday, October 23rd, Imagining Davidson is holding a teach-in on activism beyond electoral politics with Davidson alumna Bry Reed ‘20.
The organizers then plan to bring in people from Charlotte Uprising and the Southeast Asian Coalition to do a workshop on aspects of prison and police abolition, minimizing reliance on the police, and building off the Black Lives Matter movement’s momentum this summer.
During election week, the series will focus on community and self-care. They plan to have separate community spaces facilitated by Jasmine Peters, the new LGBTQ+ focused Davidson counselor, along with another healing space facilitated by, glo merriweather, Ke’ala Lopez, and Marcelle Vielot, who are all queer and trans organizers in Charlotte and who will discuss how to center trauma and healing post-election.
To round out the series, Africana Studies and Anthropology professor Dr. Laurian Bowles will lead a workshop on envisioning a path forward for everyone who has come to one or two of Imagining Davidson’s events so that they can join existing projects and learn how to imagine and manifest new projects for themselves.
Imagining Davidson acknowledges the Davidson community’s unsaid expectations to enter a specific racial or gender-conforming group and seeks to change that. Taylor stated, “It’s important to note that this series is not about how to imagine a reformed Davidson community, but rather to radically transform and dismantle all notions of what that means. In other words, it’s not just about popping the infamous Davidson bubble, but burning down the structures that allow it to exist in the first place. From that, we can build new collective futures, together.”