Summer reading: consider change: Challenging Privilege

Posted by Danny Pforte

We all want to believe that our eyes are open, but are they really? How quick are we to ignore the issues that plague our campus? No matter what your views are, it is important to at least give voice to them. My outlook on the overall campus climate is that students are apathetic to the point where it's dangerous.

So few students are fighting to empower and maintain the safety of those who suffer. So few students uphold the open-minded attitude with which Skidmore College advertises itself -- but what about everyone else?

Where were we when a group of our own was accused of a hate crime and an assault at Compton's Diner? We were so quick to judge and trust speculative evidence from the Saratogian while arriving at our own conclusions about the incident. We demonized the few people who understood the circumstances of people of color in the criminal justice system and the importance of showing solidarity in their community.

Where were we after the OSDP office was vandalized and when swastikas and "Kill N*****" were spray-painted on campus grounds? Voices were silent when there was reason to believe that homophobia resulted in a student's window being egged and other cars being vandalized in the Northwoods parking lot. These hostile actions are brought to our attention, but then quickly placed in the "too uncomfortable to address further" compartment of our minds.

The loudest voices heard this semester were anonymous. There were the "Food for Thought" posters, which offended some by challenging privilege and its relationship with oppression. There were also many anonymous comments posted in response to my articles.

We as an institution have done a poor job making issues that deeply affect students seem urgent. While I commend the students, faculty and administrators who have promoted dialogue and action regarding sensitive issues that arose this semester, people have prioritized their own individual ideologies over the collective good of the student body.

Instead of interpreting the message on the "Food for Thought" posters that were posted on the office doors of faculty members as a legitimate reason for concern, many considered the call for attention as an attack on individual faculty members. The posters were criticized because they challenged privilege. Similarly, many saw the threat I received online as a joke and tried to downplay the harm that online posts can have.

This campus is at a tipping point. I think that people relied upon anonymity with the "Food for Thought" posters, knowing that it would at least bring attention to the matters at hand. Despite numerous SGA discussions, community meetings and other events that sought to bring these people out in the open, most of the Skidmore community did not attend. This widespread apathy and ignorance has made those of us who care feel burnt-out and hopeless.

The challenge to the Skidmore community lies within each and every one of us. We must be true to ourselves. We must also challenge apathy as something that is unnatural and caused by larger issues within our society.

Why care about racism and bias incidents if you've never been the victim of one? It is a fact that white people enjoy this privilege on this campus and in our greater society. Why care about homophobia if you're a heterosexual? It is a fact that our society is hetero-normative and denies rights and privileges from sexualities that do not fit the narrow definition of heterosexuality. Who cares about people who feel uncomfortable on this campus? As long as I remain unaffected, these problems must not exist.

This has been the attitude of most Skidmore College students over the past semester. A lot has happened, but few students spoke up. This semester revealed the need for students to take a step outside of their comfort zones. I believe that this is an ongoing process. While it's fine to focus on oneself during stressful times, it becomes problematic when we cannot see how this selfish mentality is damaging to the greater society in which we live.

Individualism strips us of our ability to empathize with others whom we do not understand. Until we see beyond ourselves and the surroundings to which we are accustomed, we cannot find solutions to the social issues that have been leaking into our bastion of liberalism since Skidmore's creation.

There are huge issues that I will be thinking about this summer, and I hope that everyone who reads this does so as well. Do we see ourselves as incapable of becoming agents of change? Do we take offense to opinions that challenge our own? Will we remain indifferent to the unearned privilege and power that society grants certain individuals at the expense of others? These are questions that we should ask ourselves over the summer. Come back ready to improve our campus.

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