Kabelo Motsoeneng ’20
“Our community is hurting,” read the e-mail from Dean DiChristina. “Students from a range of backgrounds have been targeted and disrespected by actions that have occurred at Trinity,” the message continued. I wanted to slam my laptop across the wall because the language of this message was predictable. I knew the e-mail would attempt to claim that various students have been targets, but the ultimate focus would be the recent protest action by a group of students hoping to underscore the implications of an organization whose mission is to restore “Western civilization.” I also knew that the e-mail would claim that these actions are against our values. I find this claim quite curious: didn’t President Berger-Sweeney share the revised mission statement of the College? Aren’t we meant to Engage, Connect and Transform? The protest represented a way students intellectualized the notion of “Western civilization” and wanted to connect the community in questioning that premise, to ask if the College is willing to collude with such an organization. I am certain that those students wanted to transform our culture of apathy, the idea that Trinity College is an apolitical institution.
We can applaud the Dean of Students office for the recent plan of action. Without a doubt, these measures are important, but who had to be hurt first for this plan to come to fruition? Why wasn’t this the plan of action in the Fall of 2016 when student organizers asked the College to invest in programming that can transform our institutional culture? Where was this plan of action when students drew swastikas on the vehicles of other students? Or when the same students left misogynistic messaging? Where was this plan of action when non-American flags belonging to students were vandalized? Or when the LVL Heritage Month banner was damaged?
A certain group of students had to hurt for the College to come up with a plan. Students who are non-white, queer and poor have repeatedly reported on the perpetual harassment they experience from their peers. Students have led sit-ins, wrote letters of demand, yet the College decides to act in the last five weeks of the semester. The belatedness of this plan of action reiterates the question that many of us having been trying to ask: Does Trinity care about people with bodies and realities like ours? The belatedness of this plan of action reveals the reactive logic purported by the College administration that many of us have been aware about. White and rich students need not hurt first for the College to act, these measures should have been in place ages ago. The College continues to pander to whiteness because that is what this institution was founded on and continues uphold those beliefs.
This College broke my heart several times and I am to blame. This College broke my heart because I continued to believe that change was in the air, that this place is meant for people with bodies like ours. I continue to question this institution not because I loathe it — I believe that change is possible. I believe that this college can do more than admit students who do not represent the historical student body of this institution. The truth is that we’re all not hurting at the same degree, some of us started to hurt when Western civilizers invaded our land and killed our people. Our hurt does not come from our faces being flagged all over campus, our pain comes from the daily violence we experience on this campus. The violence we experience in the classroom: that some educators say the n-word and claim that the text permits them to do so; that I do not see people like me in the texts that I read, that we are accommodated as though we are not meant to be here. The danger with the claim that our community is hurting is that not all of us are included in the banner of community; not all of us are seen and heard. Perhaps our pain would matter if we were hundred shades lighter and class-privileged.