More than platitudes

“Why do we even need a Minority Coalition? Don’t we all go to Williams?” That is the type of thing I hear as Minority Coalition’s (MinCo) communications director. The other things I hear can range from curious (“So what exactly do you do?”) to uninformed (“But where is Morley Circle?”) to offensive (“But it’s mostly platitudes and bull”). These comments highlight the main complaint that MinCo receives: We preach to the choir, and no one outside of our constituency cares. So let’s get real. When I tell people I’m on the board of MinCo, I still get too many blank stares. When MinCo puts on an event and the room is half-empty, there’s an awful voice in the back of my head that thinks, maybe they’re right, maybe the words “diversity” and “coalition” are just platitudes the Office of Admissions can throw at prospective students.

But I think it’s too easy to dismiss MinCo’s work as insular and exclusionary. To do so, you have to operate under the same assumption people act under when they sleep in during Claiming Williams: That day is not for me; that coalition is not for me. These are assumptions that can change. Activism on campus is mostly reactionary and rarely sustained, but I do not believe that this campus is apathetic, because I’ve been to a MinCo meeting. We frequently argue and debate long past our allotted time, and it’s messy and complicated; but it’s always worth it. The success of organizations such as MinCo is dependent on the group’s ability to channel their passions towards reflection and constructive change.

What should a “Minority Coalition” even mean? The word “minority” can create an “us vs. them” mentality that resists the inclusive environment I hope to foster. At the same time, there are moments when I can no longer be silent, even if it means being labeled as an “angry minority,” as someone who just needs to stop taking things so seriously. But why didn’t we have a Muslim chaplain last year? Why doesn’t the Office of Admissions accept submissions from undocumented students? Why don’t we have an Asian-American Studies department? Why don’t we have more tenured minority faculty? But whenever I feel like I’m shouting into a void that no one is listening to, I go to my weekly MinCo meeting, and then at least, I am strengthened with the reassurance that others are shouting with me.

In my work with MinCo, most of my battles are fought on paper, in newsletters and on websites, all for the goal of ensuring that representations of minorities on campus are willed and not imposed. I believe MinCo works best as a bullhorn, a unifying voice that builds greater interactions and collaborations with the student body. Not through platitudes or self-congratulatory pats on our backs, but by dealing with the messy questions for which there are rarely clear-cut answers. By creating monthly all-campus discussions, MinCo is doing what it can do best – giving students a safe and encouraging space to raise controversial topics.

I never forget who MinCo represents. Alone, I am one voice, but together, MinCo roars. MinCo represents a multiplicity of student interests that overlap and intersect in so many ways that I find it difficult to believe that someone can tell me MinCo is “not for them.” When someone tells me that MinCo is not for them, they are indirectly telling me that they do not care about their fellow students, that they do not see them there. And that’s why we need MinCo now, more than ever, to make the invisible visible.

Too often, the College talks about diversity in abstract ways, as if saying the word enough times will actually affect change on campus. So let me end with a small but meaningful experience I had that cemented my belief in coalition. When I read an offensive comment concerning me, I immediately talked to friends, a professor, board members and allies. Their outrage and empathy snuffed out the small voice that said, “maybe I shouldn’t cause trouble,” and fueled the fire needed to pen this piece. They stood behind me as leaders, allies and friends because we are the Williams behind those diversity statistics, platitudes and bull. Their actions capture the meaning of “coalition.” This op-ed is for them.


Monica Torres ’13 is an American Studies and English major from Tampa, Fl. She lives in East College.