A question of Skidmore identity

Posted by The Faculty of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work

It is clear to us that what has come to be known as "the Compton's incident" has become a catalyst for change on the Skidmore campus. It has drawn the best and the worst out of our community, and its effects persist despite untold conversations, classroom discussions, teach-ins, and items published in The Skidmore News.

As a result, our individual characters and our collective character as an institution are being tested both by voices pleading for understanding and insight and by those who embrace ignorance and reject dialogue.

The question we confront is, who are we? Are we, individually and collectively, open-minded and capable of addressing questions that make us uncomfortable? Or do we shutter our minds, our classrooms, and our institution from the challenging questions concerning race, class, gender, and other points of difference among us that have been raised on campus, in Saratoga Springs, and on these pages? It is worth keeping in mind that these points of difference are socially created and have profound implications for us all.

Among those speaking publicly for unity, understanding, and in opposition to racism, classism, and the like, Danny Pforte, Teshika Hatch, Sulin Ngo, and Professor Kristie Ford stand out. Yet, in the on-line version of The Skidmore News Danny, Teshika, and Prof. Ford have been vilified and even threatened with bodily harm. Consider these quotes that were posted in response to Danny's columns over the last month:

"And Teshika, listing traits that make one privileged? What textbook was that list from? … Jesus, Kristie Ford is doing everything she can to incite race riots on campus. I fall into 4 of those categories, but guess what - I WORK HARD EVERY FUCKING DAY AND I'M PROUD OF MY ACCOMPLISHMENTS. You know nothing about me personally, or most of the people that you're generalizing."

"That guilty onlooker bullshit was relevant for the Holocaust, but for you to call everyone at Skidmore a racist who isn't fighting your made-up systematic oppression is such complete bullshit. I respect every race, but I don't respect you or your opinions anymore. There are ways to strive for equality without CONSTANTLY accosting the white students like Pforte does weekly. It's offensive and it makes him a hypocrite ... We really need to get rid of the fucking sociology department. They're churning out these god-awful chronic martyrs at record rates."

"Danny, … [i]f you stop writing these articles now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will ‘dialogue' you."

We echo Acting President Kress's condemnation of these postings. The content of the courses that have inspired Danny, Teshika, and Sulin and that are offered by Prof. Ford and others in our department is founded in the best scientific research that can be brought to bear on social inequality, power, and privilege.

What these scholars, every professor in our department, and many others across the Skidmore campus are trying to do is to hold up a mirror to individuals and to our community. No one is trying to convert anyone to any point of view. Rather, we want to encourage students and our colleagues to examine the facts and to learn from and about one another. The point is to grasp and appreciate difference and the exciting, often difficult-to-acknowledge possibilities inherent in exploring the discomfort that many feel when confronted by difference and its societal implications.

So, what can you do? First, when you hear or read homophobic, racist, classist, or misogynistic language, challenge the assumptions behind those remarks—even if they come from friends. Second, promote earnest, curious explorations of those points of division. It's okay to question anything and everything on this campus, so ask for the data and ask others outside of your circle of friends about their experiences.

And most of all, do not shy away from hard questions about you: why do you believe as you do? Do you embrace stereotypes? What assumptions do you make about others — and others about you? How well founded in reality are those assumptions?

Here at Skidmore, we are fortunate to have numerous opportunities in the classroom, in The Skidmore News, and elsewhere on campus to ask these questions and others like them. Take advantage of those courses, and join clubs and casual groups that will help you to ask and answer those challenging questions. And demand that your peers, professors, and administrators promote opportunities for the sort of free interchange of ideas, suppositions, and facts that can result in this campus addressing difference in productive ways.

There may be no better vehicle on campus than The Skidmore News for the free interchange of outlooks and experiences regarding what divides us. In a small community like ours, the student newspaper has a profound responsibility to ensure the safety of those who publish on its pages—web pages included.

As such, we invite all Skidmore News readers to join with us in demanding an end to the on-line paper's anonymous posting policy. That policy allowed and encouraged the quotes above to see the light of day, and it is out of place for three reasons.

First, it allows for threatening, libelous posts but does nothing to protect those who write openly. How would you feel if someone wrote profane comments on-line that implied s/he would do you bodily harm and signed them "Anonymous"? Could you ever feel safe on campus?

Second, one of the standards of scholarship is acknowledged authorship, and we see no reason why the same standard should not hold for a campus's student newspaper. We must know who writes what so that we can engage one another in meaningful dialogue. Anonymity promotes bullying and even terrorism, not the sort of respectful disagreement and earnest engagement in issues that institutions of higher learning stand for.

Third, the discourse on our campus should be elevated and well-considered. Anonymity promotes thoughtlessness and does nothing to compel the sort of difficult self-questioning that we advocate.

The Skidmore News editors' new policy promising to censor objectionable comments does little to address these concerns. On-line posts are already monitored, yet threatening comments have slipped through. Indeed, our concerns about the comment quoted above addressed to Danny were dismissed by The Skidmore News editors, who insisted those lines were merely a paraphrasing from a movie, as if the threat to do bodily harm somehow no longer existed. Nor will the new policy do anything to promote engagement and elevated discourse.

Many of us are doing all that we can to ensure that Skidmore stands up to its ideals. Together, we can do more. Will you call out those who privately embrace intolerance? Will you call for more to be done to promote understanding in your dorms, your classrooms, all over this campus, and in Saratoga Springs? Will you demand honest interchange and the exchange of ideas person-to-person with nothing hidden: not names, not faces, and not even opinions? Will you try to understand difference—and in the process try to better understand yourself?

This piece was submitted by the Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work faculty. By request, this piece has not been edited by The Skidmore News editorial board.

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