The Davidson You Re-member

Alumni Outlook: Grads Weigh In

The Davidson Community more than ever has shown itself to be beyond the scope of the 1,800+ students currently enrolled in classes at the college. The outpouring of support, concern, and activism from the college’s alumni body has made these voices of Davidson students “past” very much part of the present dialogue regarding white nationalism on campus and the administration’s resulting response. In this week’s edition of Et Cetera, we have included two personal essays from alumni Evan Yi 18’ and  Dr. Christopher Marsicano ‘10 in print. However, more personal essays will be featured online later this week, and we encourage giving them equal attention.

 

“Flag raising 1860.” Copied from the 1928 edition of Quips and Cranks.

Evan Yi ‘18

In the alumni association’s statement to all alumni, they described the student protest Friday by saying, “You would have recognized the Davidson you remember in that moment, an unflinching dedication to our values as a community that rejects anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry and respects the dignity of every person.” I am haunted by the use of “you remember.” It reads, both grammatically and contextually, as a command. It is more chilling than the already disturbing reality that the administration operates within its own separate and self-fulfilling institutional memory. “You remember” reveals the ways the administration, knowingly or not, engineers alumnis’ own remembering. 

For instance, the administration has publicly understood the Commission on Race and Slavery as a way of reckoning with the college’s history. While it is that in some ways, it is also, at least unconsciously, a monopolizing of which sufferings will be remembered. When I engaged in similar archival work with Davidson Disorientation, a campus tour of the college and town’s history of white supremacy, I failed to include living Black townspeople, whose memories constitute a greater, decentralized archive. This was partly because the project by nature excluded them from the very beginning: at the end of the day, I would be the one curating and declaring their memories. Remembering is contingent on power because power decides whose memory is believed. Some cannot afford to remember — to take the time, energy, and resources to reconstruct the past when they will only be discredited in the end. Similarly, even were the Commission to make itself accountable to students, alumni, and townspeople (i.e. through regular updates and mass community inclusion in the work itself) it would still be, at heart, a top-down approach that tells the living and the dead what they themselves remember, inevitably altering their own remembering in the process.

In my archival research for Davidson Disorientation, I remember seeing the entirety of the college’s official memory of white supremacy laid out on a table in front of me. At the time, I was worried about who or what was missing from that table: which secret traumas and victories had been or would be taken to the grave. I was worried about whether my own betrayals by the administration would ever be remembered. 

But this summer after graduating, I became aware of the more terrifying reality that my memories are decaying and becoming subject to revision. I am scared that in the process of trying to heal from my Davidson experience, I have altered my own memories towards that end. Distanced from current students on campus re-encountering the same betrayals and traumas I did, I no longer believe I went through such things in the first place. Since graduating, there is so much institutional hurt that I’ve dismissed as an error in memory, so many times I’ve accused myself of harboring a persecution complex. But most of all, I am haunted by the possibility that the reason so many things were absent from that table in the archives was because those alumni did not believe their own traumas enough to document them.

It’s in the wake of this unstable alumni relationship to memory that “you remember” insidiously operates. How do you re-member, when you are no longer a member? How does the college’s public archiving (official college tweets, alumni newsletters, the Commission on Race and Slavery) seek to re-member for you and in place of you? In what ways is graduation a dis-membering of both the individual from the community and the community itself? How do you recover your body when a better one has been created in its place?

To current students: I haven’t spoken of the neo-Nazi students or even the administration’s misguided attempts at resolution because there is more power mobilizing among you now than I ever saw in my time, and I believe that will see itself to healing, regardless of the administration. I am writing this because I believe there is a more difficult battle beyond that of archiving to yourselves and each other everything you have felt and will feel. Every time you externalize your memories – be it speaking out in public or confiding to your closest supports or writing them down privately – you build your own counter-archives. They ensure that years from now, you remember and believe the person you are now. That will be the most radical victory of all.

Tags:

Comments are closed.