This article is the second in a series on students’ refusal to attend the upcoming Precedent talks. You can read the first piece by Amulya Pilla (M’22) here and the third by Erin Paglione (M’21) here.
I will not attend Precedent, and if you bear with me, I would like to give you a broader justification for why.
The vapid way you have branded the event — “Precedent” / “ideas precede action” — already signals a completely whitewashed take on the issue. Discussions that I support and where I have felt invited, as a person of color, as a person passionate about fighting for the rights of marginalized people, and as a Black Lives Matter (BLM) ally have made their fight very explicit. They centered underserved voices by explicitly saying, “What We Must Do to Dismantle White Supremacy” or “Black & Asian Solidarity in NYC: What We’ve Learned” or “Black, Dalit, and Sheedi Solidarities”, branding those events with the perspectives and images of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) instead of taking it as an opportunity to promote their product (i.e., your curriculum and HCs) or platform (i.e., the Forum). But of course, this is not just about images and titles and promotions. I have witnessed many instances of Minerva as an institution missing opportunities to create inclusive spaces, which discourage me from thinking that Precedent will be any different.
A by-no-means-exhaustive list that comes to mind includes:
- The lack of deliberate education about local communities, and our impact on them, in the global rotation resembles harmful, colonial dynamics. Specifically, our curriculum is optimized for surface-level engagement with the host cultures, which, unintentionally or otherwise, treats intercultural competence solely as a means for student’s professional success. I encourage you to read Izzy Rousmanerie’s (M’20) capstone paper for a detailed discussion on some of these issues and ways to mitigate them.
- There have been few BIPOC speakers in WILs, co-curriculars, and civic projects. When they were invited, they have often represented a narrow career segment of the private sector and entrepreneurship, which, though not entirely, reminds me of the notion of “model minorities.” On the occasions that I was aware of social justice-focused events, such as “Understanding Racism and Fat Phobia in Argentina,” I could not attend because of schoolwork, which is partly my fault, but partly also points to the lack of integration between our curriculum and socially relevant topics such that I am often facing an either/or decision — either compromise my grades for my social justice education and activism or focus exclusively on academics.
- When the Class of 2021 was in India, the prime focus of our orientation programs were on white students, whereby the training was framed around how to cope with the creepiness of South Asian men and the spiciness of Indian food (as if we did not have students with South Asian backgrounds at those events!). At the same time, Minerva has never formally prepared BIPOC students about how to deal with racist incidents or remarks they may face in San Francisco, Seoul, Berlin, and other rotation cities and their student community.
- Events have never catered to halal/kosher meal preferences, instead only considering vegan/vegetarian choices (which is NOT a substitute).
- We can even think about a moment fresher in memory and ask whether Minerva (from the staff or senior leadership) provided any official support for Asian American, Central Asian, or East Asian students and other concerned student groups when they faced harassment on the streets as the coronavirus situation escalated. I heard about instances of students being the target of spit, thrown trash, the filthiest of verbal slurs, and more. Though Minerva, as an institution, cannot prevent those hate incidents from happening, Minerva could have visibly stood next to its students and offered emotional comfort.
I have witnessed many instances of Minerva as an institution missing opportunities to create inclusive spaces, which discourage me from thinking that Precedent will be any different.
Given the facts that we have always been from diverse backgrounds as a community, and that racial prejudice has always been a problem, and that racism in our community goes beyond just conversations around the BLM movement, I am not convinced that the timing and format of Precedent is sufficient. A simple google search would show you that there are plenty of professional community builders (of BIPOC backgrounds) that you could have called on to help build an inclusive community from the start of first-year or that you can count on to train us on allyship, solidarity, and resistance appropriately, but this has NOT been the case. My time is limited and valuable as I have summer internships. I cannot do the hard work of fitting my experiences, learning, and critique within Precedent’s format for the sake of this event and Minerva’s narrative as an institution. This is not meant to be a complaint or allegation, so I hope you will not interpret it that way. This is simply a note about my refusal to participate in the conversation.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
A shoutout to Anne Germanacos for asking me what I was afraid of.