by Karlyn Hunt, staff writer
“Racism is something we often skirt around on this campus,” says senior Freesia McKee. It is this belief that motivated her to propose a community meeting regarding race at Warren Wilson.
The new governance structure calls for the college to hold community meetings once every month with the purpose of bringing students, faculty, and staff together for one hour to discuss issues that affect everyone in the community.
Anyone is allowed to plan and run a community meeting. McKee is taking advantage of this opportunity to catalyze a discussion next February about racism, something she sees as a “pervasive, global issue” actualized in a small student body.
Racism on campus has concerned McKee for years. She was inspired by the remarks of writer and social activist bell hooks, who visited Warren Wilson in 2009 (and does not capitalize their name). She remembers hooks arguing that, in McKee’s words, “white supremacy happens through latent and subtle action and inaction.”
Students and faculty who met Oct. 31 to organize the meeting communicated that difficulties exist within Warren Wilson, where the student body holds a general perception of itself as an open-minded community. The group expressed that assuming that Warren Wilson is an unprejudiced collective is dangerous. It can promote a false impression that discrimination and oppression do not exist on campus, limiting awareness of truly present racism.
Students in the group recalled hurtful experiences in which their peers excused racist comments or behaviors as jokes. Observing that these behaviors can stem from ignorance, the group intends for the community meeting to serve as an educational forum that communicates struggles that unprivileged races face as well as privileges that white people overlook.
McKee is not asking students to apologize for their race or their privilege, but she does ask that we candidly recognize the racial dynamics on campus. “For many of us, the discussion needs to go beyond guilt so that we can talk about what an anti-racist campus really looks like.”
The purpose of the meeting is not solely to educate and discuss but also to advocate social change. McKee and others aspire for concrete changes to result from the discussion.
“I hope this will produce a real, tangible discussion about race and real, tangible steps forward,” says professor of economics Susan Kask, who is helping to coordinate the meeting. “This could be a real paradigm shift in diversity at Warren Wilson.”