BeHeard Forum Addresses Racism on Campus

By Joelle Leib '17
Staff Writer

In order to address the recent occurrences of hostile racism and systematic, underlying racism on campus, Scripps Associated Students and Wanawake Weusi hosted a BeHeard Forum in the Student Union on Tuesday, Feb. 10.  Scripps sophomore and Wanawake Weusi 5C Events Coordinator and Alumni Relations Chair ReAndra Johnson moderated the dialogue and posed questions to students regarding racism on campus.

Johnson asked students if they believe that the Claremont Colleges campuses are the liberal havens that they claim to be, to which many students responded “no.” Chelci Burroughs ‘17 said. “I think it can be one of the most dangerous places you can be in where students think they’re above certain things just because they are taking a certain class… There are many faces to white students at Scripps.” Nia Gillenwater ‘16 shared how the incident last December involving a Rosa Parks quilt defaced with a racial slur altered her perspective on the supposedly accepting environment of Claremont. “I thought we’d moved past just blatant aggression,” Gillenwater said.

One Scripps senior highlighted the problematic nature of many white students feeling uncomfortable in classes that address race. In response, Rebecca Millberg ‘17 said, “We need to create a culture where it’s more accepted to feel uncomfortable and finding spaces, both socially and academically, to work through being uncomfortable.” Nicole Rufus encouraged white students to put their discomfort into perspective. “It’s not about you or your discomfort because there are people actually suffering because of this oppression that’s going on.”
Students of color voiced their desire to have white students educate themselves on issues of race rather than relying on their friends who are students of color to do it for them. “That’s something I always appreciate when my white friends come up to me and be like ‘Where can I get more information on this?’ or ‘What can I be doing to support you better?’” Gillenwater said.

When asked where they felt safe on campus, many students of color cited SCORE.  “That’s kind of sad that only one little office is where I can feel like my own person and I would like to make the rest of the campus as open and as comfortable as possible but I can’t do that by myself… It takes the entire Scripps community to make these places safe for everybody else,” said sophomore Leonida Radford.

To conclude the forum, Tori Sepand ‘15 encouraged students to take the dialogue further and to convert it into action. “We need to communicate better with our administration and faculty about what we want to see from them,” she said. Johnson added, “I think that the big takeaway from this is that there really needs to be this intention, specifically among white students, to educate themselves and to recognize the privilege in spaces you take up on campus, and how you’re contributing to these social spaces in which students are feeling uncomfortable in and realizing that feeling uncomfortable isn’t something that’s dangerous, it’s a learning experience.”

Sepand also offered advice to white students who want to support students of color. “For those of you who want consider yourself an ally it’s constant education, constant willing to feel uncomfortable, and constant willingness to push yourself,” Sepand said.