Featured image by Ari Datta
At 3:30 PM on Monday, November 16, Sarah Lawrence students, faculty, staff, and workers walked out of their classes, workplaces, and other obligations to gather on South Lawn for #BLACKOUTSLC. The demonstration was organized by Carolyn Martinez-Class (’17) and Maydha Kapur (’19) in solidarity with the students of University of Missouri, Yale, and other colleges and universities where black students continue to receive violent backlash for speaking out about their experiences at predominantly white institutions. In an (unfortunately) surprising show of support at a school where students and administration frequently respond to the concerns of non-white students with apathy or inaction, over 100 members of the Sarah Lawrence community were present to hear the concerns and lived experiences of students of color.
Prior to the event, students of color (undergraduate and graduate, domestic and international) were invited to contribute to the creation of a list of demands which were presented at #BLACKOUTSLC. The demands called for the implementation of concrete, radical action to ensure the safety and comfort of students of color at Sarah Lawrence. While existing resources such as the Committee on Diversity, the Dean of Equity and Inclusion, and the Diversity and Activism Programming Subcommittee (DAPS) are necessary, they are not enough. The individuals running these programs are often not given the resources and power to incite action that results in tangible change. The list of demands (see below) presents several steps the administration can take if they are interested in making a real change in the College’s structure and environment for students of color.
It is easy, in Sarah Lawrence’s liberal bubble, to feel that we as individuals are absolved of the possibility of ignorance or bigotry. It is easy to attribute every issue at our school to Karen Lawrence and call it a day. While it is necessary to criticize the administration and make changes on an institutional level, individuals must also be accountable for their own contributions to the marginalization of students of color. As several speakers at #BLACKOUTSLC stressed, white allies should not leave such an event feeling self-satisfied. It is absolutely necessary to be critical of ones beliefs, actions, and privileges and to make changes, take action, and utilize positions of power to raise the voices of those who struggle to be seen.
#BLACKOUTSLC provided a platform for the voices that often go unheard at Sarah Lawrence. In addition to reading the list of demands, several students of color shared their experiences at an overwhelmingly white institution. Mostly, they were exhausted. We – the non-white members of the Sarah Lawrence community – are exhausted. Exhausted from living, working, and learning in a space where we are constantly dismissed, constantly alone, and constantly questioned. White allies who stand in solidarity with black students at Mizzou and Yale need to realize that their solidarity must also extend to the students they see every day at Sarah Lawrence. The racism that exists there exists here, too.